Thursday, 10 November 2011

Review of Tracey Emin: The Vanishing Lake at 6 Fitzroy Square, London

Tracey Emin: The Vanishing Lake
6 Fitzroy Square, London, W1T 5DX
7 October – 12 November 2011

Following the huge hype of her recent blockbuster retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, Tracey Emin’s site-specific exhibition at 6 Fitzroy Square is an altogether more intimate affair, albeit equally expansive in terms of media and the fully comprehensive inclusion of her trademark themes and techniques.

Emin has a penchant for taking her art to historical settings, and has previously created works for the Foundling Museum and the Freud Museum. This month, however, she has taken over the second floor of a Georgian townhouse, originally designed in 1794 as part of a terrace by the neoclassical architect Robert Adam. The title of the show, The Vanishing Lake, comes from her new novel and refers to the lake near her home in France, which only exists from autumn to spring, drying up during the warmer summer months. Many of the monoprints included in this show of all new works are made on headed letter paper from that address. Typically Emin, everything is made as personal as possible.

As one might glean from the title, the underpinning thematic is one of transience, coming and going, and impermanence: “The vanishing lake is not a metaphor… It is a real lake… […] The only metaphor is often… This is how I feel.”[1] Emin is a writer, and, as ever, it is her words which cry out from the monoprints and embroideries: There is NO MORE ME; NEVER FORGET ME; SOMETIMES DEAD… Echoing her earlier work Little Coffins (2002), a set of five wooden drawers poignantly reappropriated as resting places for her lost children, the front room here is dominated by a steel bath, unsettlingly shaped like a coffin. Death recurs in many of the works on the walls as well, and, unsurprisingly, there is repeated reference to her experience of abortion. A new development on this longstanding motif is a series of three small-scale bronze sculptures, including Prayers for Mother (2011), each comprising crudely sculpted figures, rendered as if from plasticine, complete with finger prints as a further intimate signatory trace.

It is not all about death and loss, however, and the exhibition also includes a number of delicately beautiful ‘self portraits’, drawing from Picasso’s intimate representations of his mistress and muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter. Another recent addition to Emin’s repertoire is the experimentation with scaled up tapestries, made from her drawings and paintings, with the aid of the West Dean tapestry studios. Here we can see three perfectly translated versions of her lonesome masturbating figures, delicate and vulnerable in their pink hues, with the frantic nature of the activity captured by the recreation of her many tentative and overlaid outlines.

As always with Emin’s work, there is a show of immense vulnerability, but, at the same time, of almost superhuman strength. She is nothing if not a survivor. Say no to another broken heart, pleads one work, a monoprint and embroidery on fabric. Like the lake, no matter how many times you beat her down, Emin will return.

[1] Tracey Emin, The Vanishing Lake, Autumn 2011


Installation shots of Tracey Emin: The Vanishing Lake, 6 Fitzroy Square
© the artist
Photo: Todd-White Art Photography
Courtesy White Cube


  1. That novel is nowhere to be found. Can somebody help me out?

    1. I'm afraid I can't. All the press materials at the time said that the title etc was taken from her novel, but you're right, it's nowhere to be found... Maybe it's still a work in progress? Let me know if you find anything out...