19 November 1993 – 8 January 1994
White Cube Duke Street
The title of Tracey Emin’s exhibition poignantly suggests the artist felt, rather than being at the beginning of her career, that significant things had already happened. The show comprised over a hundred objects Emin had collected over the years, in what constituted a continuing act of almost obsessive assemblage. The precious ephemera that she put on display included teenage diaries, souvenirs, toys and memorabilia, combined with paintings, drawings, and tiny photographs of her art-school paintings. These photographs were mounted on squares of the last canvas she ever bought, as a testimony to the works Emin destroyed after experiencing what she has described as her ‘emotional suicide.’
This ‘photographic graveyard’ of past works revealed an admiration for paintings by Egon Schiele and Edvard Munch, and, although Emin’s approach was conceptual, there was a lingering influence from Expressionism in both her choice of subject matter and the style of her rapidly executed line drawings and monoprints. Text also played an important role, providing the crux for Emin’s storytelling. She lays herself bare to the viewer through letters to ex-boyfriends and relatives, journals that tell of early sexual encounters and past traumas, while a newspaper cutting records the death in a car crash of a favourite uncle, and a patchwork quilt, Hotel International (1993), with hand-stitched felt letters, features the names of the artist’s family members written alongside tender messages.
Together, this material was used to build a disarmingly frank, deeply confessional and personal narrative, while—as always—Emin’s dry sense of humour and self-effacing irony tempered the highly-emotive and moving nature of her visual autobiography. Experiences from the earlier part of the artist’s life have continued to be a major source of material that she has returned to and transformed through her work.