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May 25 2012

The Saturday interview: Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin, who opens one of the biggest shows of her career today, talks about swapping sex for stargazing, why she likes David Cameron, and wanting her art to make people feel better

Demanding artist, selfish (her words) seeks an intelligent man with good sense of humour, probably not for sex because she's going through the menopause and has lost the urge, but definitely for laughs and companionship.

"I want love," says Tracey Emin. "I want to spend my life with someone and do nice things and go on adventures, read books and have nice food and celebrate things. I don't want to spend the rest of my life in the bedroom like some people who just go to bed and never get out again."

Emin is approaching 50 and she is worried about the possibility of a lonely, gentle descent to death. "I am going through the menopause and I have been for ages," she says. "It is a nightmare, an absolute nightmare. It's horrible. And I don't look like that kind of person; you don't put menopause on top of my head, it doesn't associate with me."

Emin is talking as she finishes the installation of a show that she regards as one of the most important of her career, because it is in her home town of Margate.

The works going on public display from today are almost all new or never previously exhibited. They explore themes of love and eroticism, but overwhelmingly, they mark a farewell to the old Emin – the wild child, the one that got drunk all the time, the sex, the bed, the tent. Her "animal" lust has gone. Now there is the new Emin.

"People don't talk about it, but the menopause, for me, makes you feel slightly dead, so you have to start using the other things – using your mind more, read more, you have to be more enlightened, you have to take on new things, think of new ideas, discover new things, start looking at the stars, understand astronomy … just wake yourself up, otherwise it's a gentle decline.

"For women, it is the beginning of dying. It is a sign. I've got to start using my brain more – I've got to be more ethereal and more enlightened."

Emin is 48. In 2008 she told Piers Morgan she wanted to adopt children – an idea she scoffs at now. "I have friends who have adopted, and they had to radically change their life, their homes, the way they dressed – everything, to get through the adoption agencies. I am not going to change anything."

She's not even sure she'd make a good mother. "I'd make a good friend, not mother. I'm too selfish. I think a lot of mothers are selfish and they end up having children, but I don't want to put some small tiny person through that. I don't want to be Joan Crawford.

"I would really like the idea of someone small and cute to dress up, we all do, but that's not what it's about, is it? I don't want a mini-me."

The truth is she has now made a conscious decision not to have children, and finds herself something of a role model for other similarly minded women. "I'm never going to have children, I'm never going to be a grandmother, I'm probably never going to get married. I'm nearly 50, and it is not happening. I've got too much on the other side now, and I understand that."

But being childless can be difficult. "You're treated like a witch. And I'm not a witch, it is just that I have chosen to do things in another way. It is not by accident."

There are some stunningly beautiful works in her latest show, and much to get hearts singing, especially in the first room, which features a series of blue drawings bathed in exceptional light. "This room is about not being alone, and there's a nice feeling in this room. It's uplifting."

We look at some drawings of her in bed with a friend reading Daphne du Maurier short stories to her. "It was such a nice, cosy thing. No sex, just a really good story." Emin suddenly seems downbeat. "I've thought I experienced love, and now I'm nearly 50 I'm saying, have I? Maybe I haven't. Maybe I don't know what love is. Maybe what I thought was love was a kind of greed, or desire, or something? I think there's different kinds of love – that's where I'm at at the moment. But I don't think I've experienced love."

Emin came closest in her five-year relationship with fellow YBA (the so-called Young British Artists who emerged in the late 1980s) Mat Collishaw, which ended 10 years ago (they are still good friends). In 2010 she split up with boyfriend Scott Douglas, and her closest relationship now, she says, is with her cat, Docket.

"When you have a really good friend and they're reading you a book in bed and it's all cosy and all snuggly, that can be love, too. It doesn't have to be hardcore. There's different kinds of love, and I'd never experienced that kind of totally platonic love. All the love I've experienced has always been a kind of deal, and now, as I get older, I realise that there's this other love out there."

At the other side of the room we look at some works she has never shown before, from when she was in Australia in 2007. "I was in Sydney on my own for two months, trying to work out why I felt so ill. I went on this complete health thing – I stopped drinking, I cycled every day, I walked about 10km every day, I swam every day, went on a really strict diet. My legs and arms went completely skinny, but my stomach was just getting bigger and bigger, because I was ill, and didn't understand why. What I was trying to do with these drawings was try and make myself feel sexy again, but it was difficult. It was almost there, but wasn't."

What was her illness? "I had a tapeworm."

We move on to works she did in Carrara, Tuscany, when she was looking at marble with a friend. "It was the first time I'd been really happy in a long time. You know when you wake up and you feel good? I realised then I'd been low for a long time."

One is a simple drawing of a heart, which Emin now wants to make in pink alabaster. "I'm sure the first alabaster heart will be a disaster, I'd have to keep working at it, but it's about me being driven by myself," she says. "Whether people like my work or not, I want to show people I can do things. I look at this show and I'm enthusiastic. It makes me want to do things."

Emin's path to art superstardom began when she opened The Shop in Bethnal Green with YBA Sarah Lucas in 1993, cashing in on Damien Hirst's new fame by selling ashtrays with his face on. People began to sit up and take notice with works such as her tent (Everyone I Ever Slept With, from 1963 to 1995) that was bought by Charles Saatchi and shown at the Royal Academy's Sensation show in 1997 – the same year that she so memorably appeared on a late-night Channel 4 discussion show completely hammered. Two years later, Emin was shortlisted for the Turner prize, exhibiting her unmade bed complete with stains, condoms and dirty underwear.

Unlike some other YBAs, her success has endured. She represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2007, staged an enormously successful mid-career retrospective at London's Hayward gallery last year, and not long after that was voted by her peers as Eranda professor of drawing at the Royal Academy, the first woman to occupy the role.

Critics generally warm to her these days. Reviewing the Hayward show, Rachel Campbell-Johnston of the Times wrote: "I would love to hate Tracey Emin," but she left "a convert". The Guardian's Adrian Searle called her art touching and surprising and said "the cumulative effect is extremely powerful".

She may shake her head at the suggestion, but Emin, once "Mad Trace from Margate", is now firmly part of the establishment. She's even a Tory. "I like David Cameron because I think he is fair compared to a lot of politicians in history," she says. "He's in the centre. Probably more centre than someone in Labour, not mentioning any names, who's actually Opus Dei – that is extreme right-wing thinking."

She is baffled by all the political fighting that goes on. One work in the show, The Vanishing Lake, is a rusting metal bath with a scrunched-up union flag in it, and is a comment on Britain – "politically, socially, morally". The flag is a scar. "I don't understand why people don't pull together. I don't understand why there's so much disunity. I don't understand why people can't just say: 'It's a mess, let's pull together.' Why is everyone so angry with each other on everything? It's so easy – if everyone relaxed and said we should work together, rather than against each other."

The Margate show is at Turner Contemporary, the David Chipperfield-designed gallery that opened in April last year and is helping to spearhead the town's desperately needed regeneration. Emin has been a staunch supporter, and she was the obvious choice for a major show in Olympic year (the exhibition is part of the London 2012 festival). It is clearly a big deal for her, and she's written an open letter to Margate, asking people to come. "I do feel really positive about this show, because even if people don't like it, I like it. And that is the most important thing. I didn't know that I would, because there's so much new work, and I thought I was setting myself up for a fall, but I've done it. I wanted to do something exceptional because it is Margate.

"I'm always anxious with a show, but more so with this one. I've been tearing myself to pieces … chronic nerves."

Reassuringly, there is a bed in the show. Or a Heal's mattress at least – quite astonishingly stained – on which Emin has placed a bronzed dead branch. The mattress saw service between 2000 and 2003, and is called Dead Sea. But how did it get into such a state? "I'm not going to go into the gory details. Believe me, it was all naturally made. It wasn't all on my own, I can assure you.

"It goes back to that thing of being over." She's talking about sex again. "It's over. This explains it very well. It was there, but it's gone."

And though she's one of the most successful and feted artists of her generation, is rich and has beautiful houses in east London and the south of France, where she spends around four months a year, it's still not easy finding a man. "I don't think it helps," Emin says. "Any woman who is successful and top of their game will tell you that it is not attractive to men."

She says she has not had many close relationships in recent years, and her friends "have seriously stopped" any attempts at matchmaking. "I say to them, 'Would you give him a blow job? No you wouldn't, so don't expect me to.'"

A flash of the old Emin – full-on, confrontational, up yours. Now she simply wants people to come to her show and enjoy it. "A lot of my shows generally make people feel worse," she says. "I'd like it if people came and left feeling better."

She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea: Tracey Emin at Turner Contemporary opens today, until 23 September. Details: © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 21 2011

When art breeds success in the bedroom

Does success as an artist bring you more sexual conquests? Well, yes and no, say researchers

To deal with their realisation that some artists get a lot of sex while others get little or none, Helen Clegg, Daniel Nettle and Dorothy Miell made use of an ancient tool – a tool that mathematicians count among the sexiest of mankind's inventions. The logarithm.

The trio had joined forces, as they later described it, to "investigate the relationship between mating success and artistic success in a sample of 236 visual artists".

Clegg is a University of Northampton senior lecturer in psychology, Nettle a professor of behavioural science at Newcastle University and Miell the head of the College of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Edinburgh.

Their report, called Status and Mating Success Amongst Visual Artists, appears in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

The study gives us barely any numerical detail. It says only this: "The distribution of number of sexual partners for these participants was highly skewed with a minimum of 0 and a maximum of 250 (M=10.67). Therefore, the data were converted to a log scale and [we performed our analysis] using this scale."

That "M=10.67" is the median. Half of the 236 artists had had, each of them, fewer than 10.67 lovers. The other artists each had had in excess of 10.67 bedmates. Or so they told the researchers.

Two lovers. Twenty lovers. Two hundred lovers. They seem almost to be from different universes, the collections of five or six lovers, versus the serial harems of 100 or 200. How to talk coherently about a hodgepodge of small and big numbers?

You do it with logarithms. Roughly speaking (I don't have room here to go into much detail), the logarithm of a particular number tells – measures, really – how many extra digits that number has.

The number 1 has no extra digits. Its logarithm is zero. The number 10 has one extra digit. Its logarithm is 1. The number 100 has two extra digits; its logarithm is 2. The logarithm of 101 is ever-so-slightly bigger than 2 (it's about 2.0043). The logarithm of 250 is bigger still (about 2.3979).

The logarithm is a concise, rough way to compare things across vast scales of bigness and smallness. That painter who's got a new girlfriend every few months? About log 2. That lonely graffiti gal whom everyone shuns? Log zero, it seems.

The researchers used logarithms also when they tried to understand a related set of numbers.

They had computed what they call the "mating strategy index" of the various artists. "Each one-night stand gained one point, each relationship up to a month two points, and soon up to each relationship 10 years or over, which gained eight points. The total number of points for each person was added up and divided by their total number of relationships."

After tiptoeing through all their data and computations, the artists-and-sex researchers decided that "more successful male artists had more sexual partners than less successful artists, but this did not hold for female artists".

• Marc Abrahams is editor of the bimonthly Annals of Improbable Research and organiser of the Ig Nobel prize © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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July 12 2011

Moscow's first sex museum opens – in pictures

The artfully named Tochka G ('G Spot') opened last month off Arbat, the Russian capital's famous tourist thoroughfare – and the museum is already courting controversy

Moscow museum celebrates sex

Russian attitudes towards sex challenged by exhibition of huge phalluses, paintings of orgies and Soviet condoms

In pictures: Moscow's first sex museum opens

Soviet condoms, a wall of drawings celebrating spanking, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin doing battle with oversized penises – welcome to Moscow's first sex museum.

The artfully named Tochka G ("G Spot") opened last month off Arbat, Moscow's famous tourist street, and is already courting controversy.

The Russian capital teems with sex, much of its nightlife centring on brothels and strip clubs. But when it comes to public discourse, sex simply does not exist.

The museum's offerings range from the absurd to the historical. Upon entering the red-and-black basement space visitors are immediately confronted with two phalluses each two metres tall: one decorated in the blue and white swirls of Russia's traditional Gzhel ceramics, the other in a colour that can only be described as "flesh".

The museum's main draw is an oil painting by St Petersburg artist Vera Donskaya-Khilko titled Wrestling (2011). The canvas is dominated by Putin and Obama, standing face to face as they prepare to do battle with their enormous penises. To make clear who stands stronger, Putin has two (one red, the other green). "Putin has two members, as a symbol of hyperpotency, a symbol of the gray cardinal," the wall text reads.

Paintings of orgies, mermaids with two sets of breasts and men serving cocktails on their erections compete for attention with sculptures of different species of animals engaging in sex. Glass cases hold Soviet condoms ("From the Bakovsky Factory, Size 2, two roubles"), Soviet-era art deco Vaseline tins and old Russian pamphlets on "women's illnesses".

There are also international offerings – erotic woodcarvings from France, ritual phalluses from Timor-Leste and Cameroon and even three gold-plated "phallus talismans" from 20th-century England. The modern-day offerings are inevitably more crude – life-sized Realdoll blow-up dolls from the US, an Argentine sculpture featuring a woman lying on a white carpet while a pigtailed young blond sucking on a lollipop looks excitedly on.

Yet for founder and curator Alexander Donskoi, the museum isn't really about sex. "It's a project about freedom," he said. Donskoi is a loud critic of the Putin regime and modern Russia's system of governance. Perhaps with good reason – the 41-year-old spent three years in prison after announcing, while mayor of the northern city of Arkhangelsk, that he planned to run for president during Russia's last vote.

Donskoi's main goal appears to be to provoke. He is less concerned about Russians' attitudes towards sex than about restrictions on freedoms. His ire extends to the Russian Orthodox church, a highly traditional organisation that has gained increasing power under Putin. "I think the clampdown on freedom in Russia is also the result of the fact that the nation is steadily moving away from secular government and that Russian Orthodoxy has filled the empty space left by communist ideology," he says.

Last week Donskoi met a representative of the Moscow mayor's office over concerns about the museum. Does he think it will be shut down? "They can do whatever they want," he says.

Until then, the museum continues to grow in popularity. On a recent afternoon about a dozen people quietly wandered about. Many headed straight for the shop which, Donskoi says, is the largest sex shop in Russia. Alongside the usual offerings – vibrators and whips, latex masks and lacy lingerie – stood some particularly Russian paraphernalia: S&M nesting dolls, slippers topped with breasts and sexy outfits for women who want to dress up as Aeroflot stewards, Russian rail workers, traffic police or communist-era Young Pioneers.

The most popular are sexy tax police and prosecutor uniforms, said Donskoi. "It's a bit of a fetish, because everyone is scared of them most." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 30 2011

'We didn't want our mothers to be ashamed of us'

The artists have no time for snobbery, especially when they're selling a book of sex ads

The first thing that greets you as you walk into Gilbert and George's East End studio are three huge, blowsy, just-past-their-prime bunches of lilies.

"For the smell," says Gilbert, the shorter, Italian one.

"It's our second favourite smell in the world," says George, the well-spoken English one.

What's your favourite? I ask, and he raises his eyebrows and smiles.

You're being coy, I say – really?

"You can just imagine what you want this way."

Still, it's a better welcome than the last time I went to visit an artist's studio and Jake Chapman physically threatened me and threw me out.

"We'd never do that!" says George. "That's just inexperience. We never wanted to be the kind of artists our mothers would be ashamed of. Although it didn't precisely work out like that."

Gilbert and George actively like engaging with the world. In order to promote their new show, and book, Urethra Postcard Art, they'd been capering about on The One Show the night before, something I say, that a lot of artists would be far too grand to do.

"Oh no," says George. "It's horribly snobbish to be above promoting your show."

They've been collecting the postcards, and flyers, of the sort you find in telephone boxes advertising sexual services, for years, and they've framed 564 of them, all in the same shape, which they say is the symbol of the urethra as used by the Victorian writer Charles Leadbeater.

Are any of the ads still current, I ask?

"Oh yes," says George.

Shall we call one, I say, and tell them they're art?

"Why not?" he says and flicks through the accompanying catalogue, the massive two-volume The Complete Postcard Art of Gilbert & George. "What do you want? Spanking delights? Half boy, half girl? Tie & Tease: Bound to please? Yes, let's try that."

I dial the number and a woman picks up. She sounds oriental and doesn't seem to understand my question. "That'll be her, all right!" says George.

But why the urethra? "We like Charles Leadbeater. He was very into masturbation. A true progressive. It had been forbidden for 300 years. Look at this book." And he plucks an antiquarian book off the shelf, a 1905 edition of Thought Forms by CW Leadbeater and Annie Besant.

"Look. Isn't it wonderful? Look at those pictures – it's like they've been created by a computer. All the modern artists had this book. Now look at this page and pick the first colour you think of. And then the second one." I pick, and then he shows me the legend. "That means your character is… true affection. And anger."

Uh-oh, I say.

"No, it's good. Most journalists are this one… deceit. And we know it's true because they always go, 'Oh no, I didn't really pick that one'. And 90% of the women choose jealousy."

What are you?

"Oh no. You don't think we're going to do silly tricks like that, do you?" © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 07 2010

Georgia: Let's talk about sex, baby…

kiss-208-2bPerhaps the most buzzing topic in the Georgian social media scene was not politics, elections, sport, crisis, earthquakes or catastrophe. Instead, one of the most discussed topics was actually about a new television show, Ghame Shorenastan. Shown on Imedi TV, the title translates as Night with Shorena and covers topics about sex.

As the first to do so, and with former Georgian Playboy Playmate Shorena Begashvili, the show received a lot of feedback online, both positive and negative. NightGravity was certainly delighted.

გაქაჩავს. დარწმუნებული ვარ ბევრმა ცნობილმა თუ არა ცობილმა უყურა,ბევრმა კონსერვატმა და ა.შ.

This show will work. I'm sure a lot of famous, not so famous and also conservative people watched it.

Everybody agreed that Georgia needs a television programme about sex and most of the negative comments, such as this criticism by lukrenc, were of a more technical nature.

გადაცემას უდაოდ საინტერესო და სექსუალური წამყვანი ყავს–შორენა ბეგაშვილი,გადაცემის საინტერესოობაზე კი რა მოგახსენოთ მეგონა ტოპ 10 სიმღერას ვუსმენდი

The show has an indisputably interesting and sexy hostess - Shorena Begashvili - but the show itself is not so much - I thought I was listening to “Top 10 music videos”.

Popular Georgian blogger Tomushka made several posts about the show and reviewed every episode. She also criticized the technical aspect.

There was not a main topic, and it looked like a MTV program. During 45 minutes there was 20 minutes of advertisements and 20 minutes of MTV song videos :D last 5 minutes were “hello, goodbye, sex is not bad, sex is good” :D

Lishtota even conducted an online poll asking “When will be “night with Shorena” cancelled?”


[1. One month or earlier (40%); 2. Several months (28%); It won't be cancelled (31%)]

Another blogger, Giorgi Benashvili was surprised that people did not react nire strongly about the show, especially as the authors and producers expected more scandals.

“Today, in the year 2009, teaching sex via television is not relevant anymore - this is the conclusion which is reached because of the silence with which the programme was greeted and which was not expected by its authors or me. If the show was made in 2001, I can imagine the effect it would have, as opposed to that we have now.”

In fact, the lack of adverse reactions lead many to suppose that society, or at least that part of it online, was ready for such a show. Many posts on blogs and forums even complain that the show was not informative enough, as one comment complains.

გოგო კარგია უდაოდ. ყველაფერი ისე იყო როგორც ჩვენს ცხოვრებაში, გამომწვევი ფასადით შეფუთული ფრიგიდულობა. სექსი დარჩა ოცნებად :D :D

The girl is nice for sure. Everything [the show - D.] was like our life - frigidity wrapped in an extravagant cover. Sex remained as a dream :D :D

Perhaps the television show had hoped to make a sexual revolution, but failed because Georgia has already managed to escape from the mentality of there being no sex in the USSR. This topic is not taboo anymore and maybe that sexual revolution has already happened albeit as a velvet one.

December 24 2008

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