Friday, 8 November 2013

in Tracey's tent

I know it's not a popular work of art, but this morning on the blogosphere I came across Tracey Emin's 1995 work of art, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995, otherwise known as 'the tent'.  Not the real one, of course.  That burnt down in 2004.  Just pictures.

I've popped some pictures here (taken from Wikipedia), so you know what I'm talking about, although they're not my pictures, so I hope Ms Emin and, indeed, the photographer, don't mind.

Lots of people have criticised Tracey's tent, which is harsh, if you ask me, because it's an incredibly well crafted and put together piece, and it's thought provoking too.

One of the thoughts the tent has provoked in people is 'blimey, she's slept with a lot of people'.  There are two points to note on this issue:
  1. The people whose names are inside the tent are all the people she's ever slept with.  So her Granny is in, while a guy she had sex with in a field (if such a thing happened) is out.
  2. Isn't that what it's about?  Our judgement about the number, and our sticking our collective noses into her tent to find out?
Alain de Botton defines snobbery as taking one tiny part of what makes up a person and using it to define them.  Check out his fabulous TED talk on success here (I watched it while researching my post on ambition).  For young women, a small part of their personality - i.e. the number of people they have sex with (and, speaking from personal experience, it doesn't actually have to be based in reality) is used to judge them as good women or bad women.  

This seems like a terribly old fashioned thing to say.  Surely we have grown out of this nonsense by now?  And yet it continues.  Now in the form of slut shaming.  Young women's sexuality is still perceived as requiring control, and women who have sex with multiple partners are criticised for it.  It is still the case that people think that if you give away the milk for free, no-one is going to want the cow.

Of course, this is ridiculous nonsense.  Women's bodies are there own, to do with as they wish.  My favourite thing in Emin's tent is that on the floor it says 'With myself, always myself, never forgetting'.  It really emphasises that this is her space, and her business.  If you choose to poke your nose into Tracey's business, you should accept her rules.  You can choose not to look, but once you look, and you see her Granny is in there as well as her lover, then you do not have the right to assume anything.

Apart from being ridiculous to judge a woman on the number of sexual partners she has, it is also impossible.  Women simply don't have a counting device strapped to their heads.  So what is really being judged is people's assumptions about the woman.  When I was young I had a very strong rule about not giving away the milk for free, and yet got given the nickname Cara the Unstoppable Sex Machine (thanks for that, whoever it was).  Meanwhile, another friend of mine, with a good reputation, was having sex left, right and centre, because she enjoyed it, and because it didn't matter.  She got away with it.  She clearly chose the right people.

Looking back now, I think maybe my rule was a little too rigid, and I could have cut myself some slack, and had some more fun.  That said, I'm happy with how things have turned out.  And my friend?  She's never expressed any regrets to me.

Back to the topic of Tracey's tent.  I also like that she has appliqu├ęd the letters, because such needlework has a strong tradition amongst women.

Do you like Emin's work?  What do you think of the tent?

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