This artist created a piece based to challenge the way we think about sexuality.
When you think about your sexual history, what do you feel? Amusement? Embarrassment? Regret? You probably feel a mix of all of those things, because even if you currently have a great sex life, everyone had a rocky start. In the beginning, we don’t know our bodies very well, and we don’t know ourselves enough to know what we want, what we like, and how we’ll react to new experiences. In the light of our current knowledge, our past always looks a little bit like a mess full of missteps. For that reason, we don’t think too much about our first sexual encounters, about the naked bodies that we still remember clearly, that might be strangers to us now. Recalling those lost connections can be overwhelming, sad, relieving, or even enraging, and Tracey Emin, a contemporary artist from England, recognized the power of that experience.
Emin became famous after she nearly received the coveted Turner Prize in 1999. Before receiving it, she went through a deep depression that made impossible for her to leave her bed for many days. It happened after a breakup, and once she finally managed to get up to take a bath, she looked at the bed, the place where she had spent all that time, and felt shocked. The sheets were stained, and the underwear that was laying around was stained with menstrual blood as well. She saw it almost like a crime scene, with empty liquor bottles and condoms. But it wasn’t a crime scene, it was just the evidence of her perfectly human vulnerability. When she understood that, she created a work of art based on it called My Bed, which was later exhibited at art galleries.
There’s nothing essentially remarkable about Tracey Emin’s bed, but it gained value the moment she saw what the bed could represent: the display of our lowest intimate moments, the ones we generally hide from others and even from ourselves once we get over them or repress them. That was her inspiration for her next work, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995. That year, she personalized a tent with the names of everyone she had ever slept with. The name was scandalous, specially because the tent contained over 100 names, but it was quite literal: it included the name of her grandmother and other family members, because she literally meant sleeping in the same bed with someone. In addition to that, she also included the words “foetus I” and “foetus II,” her two abortions.
Of course, people misinterpreted this work about intimacy and closeness. Nonetheless, those who entered the tent perceived the feelings that inspired this piece thanks to the reduced and enclosed space. As Tracey explains in a video about her work, when visitors left the tent, they thought about their own personal tent and their own list of colorful names representing old emotional connections, losses, and secrets. What would you feel inside a tent that reminds you of your emotional history and the history of your body?
In 2004, the tent was destroyed in a fire, and Emin refused to re-create it. That probably was the perfect ending for that tent and those names. As the artist showed us in this work, we should think about our history, consider it when we think about who we are now and where we’re headed, but we should also let go of past burdens to walk more lightly in the future.
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