Tracey Emin: Love is what you want

My review of Tracey Emin’s Hayward show out now in the new September issue of ArtReview magazine. Sign in and read it at

Is Tracey Emin’s art worth discussing? Thousands of column inches are expended in commenting on her work and career, yet for all the discussion of what Emin’s work bears witness to – her chaotic existence, her lifeworld of sexual and emotional turmoil, her abortions, her small-town origins, her artistic redemption – there’s remarkably little examination of why her work seems to attract such attention and compel the kind of responses it does. Perhaps there’s never enough stepping back: reactions are always of the heavily invested kind. You either love Trace or you hate Trace; despise her for her narcissism and self-indulgence, or admire her for her quixotic triumph over life’s adversity; you love her for her hedonistic, punkish assertion of ordinariness and genuine sentiment over social prudishness, artworld etiquette and artistic inauthenticity, or you dismiss her as a ‘media phenomenon’ and decry her work as artless, technically empty; and so on…


Rabih Mroué: I, the Undersigned -The People Are Demanding

“Rabih?” A woman’s voice echoes around Iniva’s light-filled main gallery. “Rabih!” she calls again, anxiously.

The woman is Catherine Deneuve, seen walking through bombed-out and derelict urban streets; or it could be Catherine Deneuve acting a role, the role of a Western woman lost somewhere in the Middle East. The short clip, part of an installation titled Je Veux Voir (2010)(from the 2008 film written and directed by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, and featuring, among others, the artist Rabih Mroué, as himself) makes it impossible to tell. In navigating the history of the Lebanese Civil War and its aftermath, Mroué’s work operates in the space where fiction breaches reality, and where political realities are driven by conflicting collective narratives, investigating how individual recollection and identity can exist in a context where the violence of the recent past cannot easily be acknowledged in the present. Continue reading “Rabih Mroué: I, the Undersigned -The People Are Demanding”

Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads

While a lot of people in the artworld like to think that art should be political, things get more serious when artists find themselves facing political repression for their outspoken views.

It is now two months since Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei was first detained by the Chinese authorities – at the time of writing he has been heard of only once, in which time Ai’s disappearance has become an international cause célèbre. It makes discussing Ai’s art separately from his personal predicament tricky. For, while it’s easy to shower the artist and his work with sympathetic support, this reduces his art to a simple placeholder for his principled opposition to the Chinese authorities, and does little justice to its particular artistic qualities, and the political ambiguities and contradictions it expresses. Continue reading “Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads”