Time Out São Paulo

Tracey Emin: interview

We caught up with the UK artist, in São Paulo for her exhibition at the new White Cube gallery.

Your exhibition is mostly nudes – are they all images of you?

They’re not of anybody else. They’re nobody else’s body but mine. I use myself as a motif for what I’m trying to say. It sounds corny but it’s like an ‘anywoman’ idea. It doesn’t matter if it’s me or not, but it certainly isn’t my friend, and it’s not you. It represents a woman. I use me, or did use me, or have used me or the shape of me because I’m the one that’s here. It’s easy.

Nudes are so ubiquitous in art, but yours are by you, of you. Do you think they feel different depending on whether a man or a woman has made the images?

I think it is different a woman doing it. A man doesn’t know what it’s like to be a woman, it’s that simple. I don’t know what it feels like to have a dick. I could draw a dick as much as I’d like but I don’t know what it’s like to have one.

These feel more challenging to look at than a lot of other images of nudes – they don’t feel sexualised.

No, it’s not about sex. Most things aren’t about sex. Lots of things to do with love aren’t about sex.

Even the animated drawings of the naked woman masturbating?

The film isn’t about masturbating, the whole film is about drawing. When you masturbate you do it on your own. When you draw, you do it on your own, and it’s a singular act between your mind and your hand. I had to make a lot of drawings to make that film. That’s what it’s about. That’s why it also has a kind of restraint to it. It isn’t as straightforward as what you see is what you get. There’s something else going on.

You said that with some of these works, you’d drawn yourself ‘from outside’ rather than from within. What’s that shift in perspective about?

I’ve got a house in France – it’s really remote and I spend a lot of time there alone. So, I sit in a chair like this [strikes a pose], and I realise I’ve been sitting there for ten minutes. And I think, I better get up. And I get up and I sit in another chair. I realise that I’m talking to myself doing this thing, and I’m just sort of posing in my own living room. And I realise that I’ve been doing it quite a lot. As if someone is there. And I thought, this is really interesting. Subconsciously I must feel that there’s someone here. I thought, I wonder what I look like? So I did a series of drawings of myself of what I thought it looked like. Then when someone came to stay, I said, can you take some photos of me in these positions? And then I did the drawings from the photos. It’s to do with me looking at me, not just feeling me.

When you say ‘as if somebody’s looking, as if somebody is there’, is that a good feeling?

Yeah, it feels good. Well, maybe that’s why at the end of this summer, I was so happy. The happiest I’ve been in years and years, with my work. I was so happy working I didn’t want to leave. Because I realised that I was doing something new for myself. It might not look different, it still looks like Tracey, but for me, I’ve made a leap inside my head to somewhere else. And I suppose I was excited about all the shows coming up, too, because it’s a really big deal to do four shows in a row. 

So after São Paulo …

I’m going to Miami after here [for Art Basel Miami Beach]. I’m looking at apartments in Miami as well. I’m thinking about buying a place there. I could imagine myself just sitting in an apartment there, doing watercolours being quite happy. I just feel good there. Then New York – I’ve got two shows there in May, then Rome. But before that, I always go away in January – I go to a detox clinic for three weeks. It’s in Austria.

And is it like a spa, or proper detox?

Proper detox.

Why do you go?

I went years ago because I wasn’t well and I just really liked it. It’s good for me, and I always have brilliant ideas when I’m there. And get rid of loads and loads of crap – literally [laughs]. And loads from my head too. It’s brilliant. I think, I’ve lost two kilos and I’ve put on a kilo of muscle and my skin is really good, my eyes feel really bright – and I’ve got a really good idea about something I want to do. Life-changing ideas.

Like what?

One time, it was deciding to have my breasts cut off. Cut in half. Which I did. A breast reduction. I hated my breasts so much. I hated them. For a long time I used to stand there thinking, I have a big stomach, and I suddenly realized it wasn’t my stomach so much, it was my big tits. And I used to kind of hide them by the way I dressed – I always dressed in a certain way. I just couldn’t cope with it any longer and also I was in so much pain from them as well. 

Do you wish you’d done it before? 

I think any woman who can do it should. I think any woman who makes her breasts look bigger must be insane. 

You came to São Paulo once before, in 1999. What were your impressions back then?

It rained the whole time I was here in Brazil. All I remember is the rain. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. And it wasn’t a little rain, it was torrential downpours that were freezing cold, in December. 

I read where you said you felt frightened by the city.

Yeah, I remember I felt afraid.

Of what?

You can’t wear a fucking watch here. Don’t be silly. Sorry, I don’t see you wearing your nice watch today. I haven’t seen anyone wearing a watch here.

Oh. Well, I have a watch, a Casio, and I sometimes wear it!

Well, when I was here before I was with people that were very wealthy, so maybe I was feeling their apprehension. It does feel better this time round. The economy is much better, there’s much more people working. There’s still a massive abyss between rich and poor, but the level has got a lot better. I suppose the other thing is that São Paulo is so big – it’s so massive that you feel a bit daunted by it. So the fear isn’t about something that might necessarily happen. But the fact that everyone’s living behind gates, and that kind of thing … maybe that’s just the way it is.  

By Claire Rigby


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