Tracey Emin on feminism, Kim Kardashian and household chores

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On paper, Tracey Emin is an intimidating force. After gaining notoriety with her work Everyone I Have Ever Slept With in 1995, being shortlisted for the Turner Prize with  My Bed in 1999, not to mention belong to the Young British Artists movement, she continues to be one of our most prolific and prominent artists in the UK. 

Her most famous artwork depicted her real-life bed - littered with condoms, stained underwear and cigarettes. Many scoffed as its status as a significant work of art, but were eating their words when it sold last year for £2.2 million.

Like all our favourite women Tracey has a lot to say for herself and isn't shy about sharing her opinions. 

A recent interview on motherhood, in which she said that becoming a mother would have compromised her work as an artist, prompted an interesting and passionate debate. And she famously walked out during a live discussion about the Turner Prize on Channel 4 in 1999 after she said she was drunk and wanted to be with her friends and call her mum.

But, when spoke to Tracey about her design for this year's Brit Awards statue (following in the footsteps of Philip Treacy and Damien Hirst), we found a softly-spoken woman who is, among many things, full of wisdom and insight about the way we live now. 

You previously said you’d been criticised by the press for being a woman. Do you still feel like that?

I think people have got a bit softer towards me because obviously I’m not going anywhere. You know, they can do what they want but it’s not going to send me away anywhere and I think they realised that. At the end of the day, if someone’s working really hard, even if they don’t like what I’m doing you’ve got to respect people who work hard. It’s getting better for me personally but for women in general there’s still a massive gap out there to get things more equal.

Did you see the Kim Kardashian Paper magazine cover? Do you consider that art?

It’s not in my psyche. It’s just not what I’m into. I’m not interested. She can do what she likes.

Do you think our pop culture icons celebrate women’s bodies or is it harmful?

It depends on how they’re doing it. If they’re doing it in a harmful way and they're under commercial pressures then it’s wrong but if they enjoy it and they want to go for it, then do it. I just think if I had teenage daughters I would just trust that they’re intelligent and they wouldn’t do things that I might not find very pleasing. Everyone has a different attitude towards it but I think the best thing is just to be rational.

In the interview you did for Stylist with Joan Collins, you said you admired Louise Bourgeois for her work. Who else are you inspired by?

I really respect women who work hard and work hard to change people’s perspective of things. As for someone like Joan, they don’t make women like that anymore. When she walks into the room, everyone turns.

In what way?

Well you’re getting paid something like 15% less than your male counterparts. Let’s start with that one. It's also very difficult for women when they have children to be taken seriously in the workplace. I think it’s because they’ve got a different agenda and their time span for doing things has changed so it’s really difficult. And a lot of men don’t have to take any of that on board. A really good example of this is if a woman is about to be promoted or get a brand new job, she thinks 'I can’t do that because I’m trying to have a baby'. If a man was trying to have a baby, he’d think, 'oh this is great timing'. 

Does the art world have the same problem?

Yes, it’s really difficult to be fully creative as an artist if you’ve got two small children. Simple, really.

Is that why men have been more prominent in art?

Yeah, definitely. What’s going to happen, well, god knows what’s going to happen, but in the next 200 years there’ll be a change. Because you’ve got more female artists now, who have much higher profiles. But that’s only been over the past 50 years, so we need another 150 years to get the same situation and it’ll be equal for men and women in the art world.

How do you cope with it when you're criticised?

Sometimes I write a letter (laughs).

What kind of things have you said?

It depends on the context. It depends on how personally insulting they are and how factually incorrect they are.

What about the way men see women. Is that changing?

A lot of educated young men have a different attitude towards women than they did then say 50 years ago. They see women as being equal now. Maybe 50 years ago that wouldn’t have been the case. It’s a generational thing.

How will it change? Financially? Household chores maybe?

I think household chores is pushing it. Maybe just 150 years and they might pick a hoover up (laughs).

You’ve designed this year’s Brit awards statue. How did that come about and what was your inspiration?

First of all I thought, I can’t do this, so I had to get my head around it. But then I thought it was a really lovely thing to do. To design the statue I did these rosettes as I thought these people should be given something really personal - a best in show type of thing for what they’ve done. Then there’s the writing on it which is just affirmations – an appreciation of what they’ve done. 

Why did you say yes? Did you want to be part of music pop culture?

I just thought it would be such a nice thing to do. I wanted it to look very personal and handmade. It's very soft and gentle, they’ve never actually attached anything to it before that’s real you know. It’s always just been part of the statue.

Tell us about the musicians you love

I haven’t looked at who’s been nominated but I just love what Kate Bush did last year, she should win the lifetime achievement. She didn’t have a comeback but you know you couldn’t get a ticket for love nor money. I don’t really like live music things anyway, they freak me out a bit but I’m going to the Brit awards.

Looking more widely at culture in general, who are the stars you think people should be paying attention to at the moment?

In Britain, there’s just so much going on culturally. Last night I went to see a show by an artist called Daniel Silver, it’s his first show at Frith Street gallery. He’s not that young but that was his first in the UK. One of my favourite galleries is the Carl Freedman gallery and he showcases lots of artist who are unknown and I’m always buying work from there because it's always new and exciting. Literature, I’m totally into the classics. At the moment I’m reading Henry Miller Tropic of Cancer as I’m just about to do the cover for it for Penguin. But then there's all these incredible British actors, British restaurants and chefs and the fashion. It was kind of crazy in the 90’s but now the scene feels more genuine and sincere. 

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Stylist Team