Laid in Bronze: Tracey Emin at Jupiter Artland

'The last moments with you', acrylic on canvas
'The last moments with you', acrylic on canvas

I Lay Here For You

10:00 - 17:00

From: 28 May 2022

To: 30 Sep 2022

Jupiter Artland
Bonnington House Steadings
Near Wilkieston
Edinburgh & the Lothians
EH27 8BY

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One of Scotland’s most highly-anticipated exhibitions of art opened to the public last weekend at Edinburgh’s Jupiter Artland. Tracey Emin’s I Lay Here For You is an intimate and truly beautiful display of the artist’s most recent work in what is a dynamic yet deeply personal exploration of what it means to live, and what is means to love. 

Set across several unique spaces of the contemporary sculpture gardens vast grounds, this is a show that spans a variety of media, including sculpture, painting, lithograph, ink drawing, and film. Emin brings attention to the complexities of sexual relationships, personal suffering, the female experience, life and death, illness and fear.

Recently relocating back to her hometown of Margate, Tracey Emin CBE, RA, whose confessional and extremely honest practice draws directly from her life events, is one of Britain’s leading female artists, having garnered huge international acclaim. Set apart from her peers for her frank and unparalleled honesty, it could be said that we haven’t seen a female artist’s work so autobiographical and committed to women’s politics since Paula Rego. 

The new six-metre bronze sculpture, which the show is named after, was unveiled by the artist herself  to mark the opening of the first public display of her work in Scotland since 2008. I Lay Here For You is the newest addition to the sculpture parks permanent collection, joining works by Anthony Gormley, Marc Quinn, and Ian Hamilton Finlay among many others.

Tracey Emin, ‘I Lay Here For You’, bronze
‘I Lay Here For You’, bronze

Lying large in scale upon the ground of a woodland clearing, the figure is turned to face the earth so as to hide the frontal view of her body and avoid the gaze of the onlooker. Hands clenched between her thighs, which are spread by an angled left leg, we see a woman whose ambiguously moulded form burrows into the land on which she rests. Exaggerated proportions, extreme curves, an unsmooth surface. She appears to mimic the natural landscape of the surrounding Pentland hills. Visibly moulded by the artist, evidenced by a surface covered in ridges and craters, we see a depiction of the flesh that embraces its imperfections and draws attention to the parts usually ignored. Typically a more grotesque position, she is hunched slightly and propped by her knees, elbow, and forehead. A large bottom dominates our view.

With this bronze, Emin confronts all classical traditions of the reclining female figure. Where before we may have been shown a woman resting gracefully upon lavish furniture, with perfected skin, arm draped away to expose a frontal view of her body. Instead, we see here a work of art that breaks from the tradition of the submissive reclining female that is firmly embedded within the history of art. Rather than provocative, she is defiant. Emin successfully reinforces the power and strength of the female body with this cast metal sculpture, a work that is made to withstand extreme conditions – defiant of brutality and resistant to trauma.

Following the circular pathway to and from, we are forced to both approach and leave her, making for a cyclical experience in which there is no set beginning or end, but instead a feeling of something to come. It is this sense of arrival and departure that cleverly encourages the visitor to make a journey in which I Lay Here For You is their destination. Rather than offered to us, she becomes encountered upon. She waits, and subjects herself to public view, as declared nominatively by her title. It is this element of encounter and discovery that seems to empower her and removes the element of desire or opportunity historically presented though the diminishing perspective of the male gaze. 

Tracey Emin, 'WET', acrylic on canvas
‘WET’, acrylic on canvas

Arriving at the first of the two indoor gallery spaces, the ballroom of Bonnington House introduces a further eight works by the artist. We see small and large canvases doused in a variety of pinks and reds. WET hangs alone on the left-hand wall. The largest of the three single female nudes in the room, we see a woman, legs parted. Pairing both linear and painterly mark-making, gestural strokes and energetic marks trickle downwards as if being shed from the surface.

Tracey Emin, 'Sunrise', acrylic on canvas
‘Sunrise’, acrylic on canvas

To its right is Sunrise, scrawled heavily in black. There is a strong graphic quality that more explicitly details elements of the female form than the smaller painting to its left, in which two figures can be made out from a burst of crimson. 

'Holding on to everything', jesmonite and acrylic paint
‘Holding on to everything’, jesmonite and acrylic paint

Divided by a grand marble fireplace on which rests a small jesmonite model, the right-hand side of the room hosts two of what the artists terms her ‘tiny furniture paintings’, in which we see her bed, unoccupied.

'Empty Heart', acrylic on canvas
‘Empty Heart’, acrylic on canvas

A more recent addition to the artist’s oeuvre, they come as a direct response to the pain and trauma of her recent health issues. Emin suffered from an aggressive cancer during lockdown, in which she had several organs removed as part of her treatment. This makes relevant the separation that we see in the adjacent dovecot which shelters a smaller bronze. Titled This is exactly How I Feel Right Now, parts of the limbs are missing, as if worn away, detached, disconnected.

'This exactly how I feel right now', bronze on wood plinth
‘This is exactly how I feel right now’, bronze

In the second of the two indoor spaces, the main gallery houses eleven lithographs, overlayed with Indian ink. These are part of a larger series of prints that offer an alternative depiction of the artist’s bed, which this time is inhabited by either one or two figures. Seductively coloured and elegantly framed, the first pale pink layer grounds a depiction of her bed printed in deep blue. It sets a consistent framework for each edition, which are individually worked over and form a storyboard-style display that bluntly discloses her private activity. Remaining constant throughout, Emin brings to public view the place that she has spent much of her time and recovery. A motif often turned to by artists during a period of pain and suffering, she communicates her exploration of the possibilities of her own death.

'Some things make no difference', 'I know you loved me-I know because I loved you too', Indian ink on lithographic background, 400gsm Somerset Velvet Warm White paper
‘Some things make no difference’, ‘I know you loved me – I know because I loved you too’, Indian ink on lithographic background, 400gsm Somerset Velvet warm white paper

‘You Just Kept Wanting me’;  ‘Don’t Touch me – Not even in your Dreams’; ‘Because I’m so Fucking sexy I was born sexy And I will die sexy’: distinctively handwritten titles jotted directly onto the paper emphasise the importance of text throughout her practice. Poetic and extremely telling, the titles along with the images are all a direct output from the artist’s body, making these works not only a composition of visual elements but also a composition of language, bringing attention to her titles as a continuation of the work.

'Forest of Love 6', acrylic on canvas board
‘Forest of Love 6’, acrylic on canvas board

In the smaller section of this space, there is a tiny painted square depicting a vulva that is one of the artist’s more recent vagina paintings. An older work hangs next to it on the central wall and can be clearly told apart from its more recent neighbours by the more gentle handling of paint. This is it seems to lack the urgency of her recent work, exemplified in the ‘sex paintings’ shown on the wall to its right.

'This is it', acrylic on canvas
‘This is it’, acrylic on canvas

To conclude the show, outside there are steps which lead to the harrowing two-and-a-half-minute film, Homage to Edvard Munch and all My Dead Children, 1998. A direct reference to Munch’s The Scream, Emin lies naked upon a jetty outside the late artist’s house in Norway, the sounds of her screams piercing the quietness of the landscape.

Declarative, exposing, self-presenting, I Lay Here For You is an extraordinary exhibition, made unique by Jupiter’s remote and intimate setting. We are shown a woman, not for her appearance or what she’s gone through, but what she’s overcome. Tracey Emin embraces her pain to create art that reveals. She interrogates the history of the portrayal of women and reconstructs a perspective that is in its entirety truthful, empowering, tragic, and fierce with determination.

With grateful thanks to Danele Evans for this review. Read more about the exhibition’s opening, on 27th May, here.

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