Sometimes I don’t really “get” modern art, but I get Tracey Emin’s My Bed. She displayed it as a piece of art in 1998 after practically living in it for about a month following a bad breakup. Back then she was rake-thin and impish with an appetite for booze and fags, in that odd age where you’re left to fend for yourself but are not perhaps quite ready.
The result of this dark but crucial time in Tracey’s life is this piece, a beautiful 3D snapshot of a period of her life represented with just her stinky old bed – a human necessity designed for sleep, sex, and death. Tracey’s is stained and messy, the result of billions of skin cells, spillages and bodily fluids. The floor surrounding it is littered with fag ends, vodka bottles, lube, condoms, whatever.
That’s what people always comment on, and for years it’s what I associated the piece with. Going back last night to see the bed, now I am in my twenties, I looked past the bottles and detritus associated with a “bad patch” and saw the little Polaroids of Tracey, the sweet cuddly toys, the sexy but still innocent underwear, the not-hung-up towel and the candle by her bedside. I saw a woman who I recognised a lot more than I did when I first saw the piece over a decade ago, or in books during art school. I think I fell in love with her a bit.
This video released by Tate shows Tracey painstakingly building My Bed, arranging the items that had been transported by its anonymous collector in tiny, labelled sandwich bags. In the film Tracey laughs at the belt which shows how skinny she used to be, and carefully, tenderly sets the items in the right place. She laughs throughout, reunited with the woman she used to be, and gets into the bed for a snuggle which has become something of a tradition for her. Wrapping herself up in the grubby wonder of her past.