‘Well, f*** it. Life’s short’: Tracey Emin isn’t holding herself back anymore

At Jupiter Artland, a sculpture park on the green edge of Edinburgh, Tracey Emin is presenting her latest artwork to the press. Journalists crowd around her, photographing her from every angle, but Tracey isn’t fazed. She laughs and jokes with them, answering every question with disarming honesty. You’d never guess that not so long ago she underwent major surgery for bladder cancer, leaving her too weak to paint.

That was back in 2020, but it took her a long time to regain her strength, which is why this artwork feels like such a triumph. Titled, I Lay Here For You, it’s a huge bronze sculpture of a reclining female nude. She’s lying on her front, face down, her legs and buttocks slightly raised. Is she in the throes of sexual ecstasy? Has she been sexually assaulted? Or is she merely sleeping? Like a lot of her work, it’s both alluring and disturbing. It’s this ambiguity which gives this sculpture its strange power.

“I’ve been wanting to do it since 2010, and I’ve been working up to it and working up to it,” she says. “My mum dying, it kind of gave me this extra confidence to do it … When she died I felt so bereft that it was like: ‘Well, f*** it. Life’s short. Go for it. Do it.’ Because if I mess it up, well, I mess it up. It’s OK, it’s alright. It was like my mum sort of saying: ‘Go on Tray, do what you want to do – don’t hold yourself back.’”

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