Tracey Emin, “My Bed,” 1998
*Trigger warning: depression/suicide*
This work of art shows the artist at her most vulnerable and is extremely effective at showing just how dark this time in her life was.
Emin had just gone through a troubled patch in a relationship and had sunk into a suicidal depression. She did not leave her bed for several days. When she finally overcame this bout with depression, she decided to display the bed itself, in its pitiful state, covered in filthy clothes, condoms, empty bottles of liquor, and cigarettes. She placed it in a gallery and explained its context in her life.
It became immediately controversial, with some claiming she was simply playing the part of a “bad girl” and others decrying it as less than art. Many objected in particular to the bodily fluids included. Emin’s genius has always necessarily been along the thin line between art and confession. She constantly tells the viewer much more about herself than others ever share, particularly about the struggles in her life.
This piece is successful because it shares an experience with the viewer in an incredibly succinct way. Emin’s bed shows us just how low a person can get. The fact that she survived the experience and has had a successful career since has transformed the piece over time. It is no longer a piece which only shows us the face of depression; it gives us hope that one can get out of that bed and lead a fulfilling life.
Visit her website here.