Tracey Emin had just woken up when I interviewed her over the telephone for Melvyn Bragg’s guest edit of the New Statesman. She spoke from her house in the south of France, where she spends much of her time, enjoying its relative peace: “I haven’t got any friends here; I can’t speak French.”
The work she produces there is different from the art she makes in London, she said, describing the nature that surrounds her as a mirror.
Her cover for the NS (which she agreed to do because “if Melvyn asked me to go to the moon and back for him I would”) is, however, a political statement:
It’s that art and culture are dead — it’s the state that Britain is in financially after 30 years of ill-considered government. The tragedy is that it’s the arts that have kept Britain afloat during this fucking drought. And it’s the arts which are the first things to get slashed.
Emin remained characteristically frank as she accused the Labour government of having been “appallingly shit” towards the arts, and Andy Burnham of being like a “philistine”. Her loyalty in the 2010 election lay elsewhere:
I voted for the Conservatives. I live in a democracy; it’s up to me who I vote for. And what I was voting for was a swing in politics. We’ve got the best government at the moment that we’ve ever had.
Emin also professed her admiration for Tory ministers: “This sounds really snobby, but within the Tory party — Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaizey — they really know about art.”
The interview also covered her work, the controversy she provokes, her celebrity and legacy (she has established a trust that will turn her east London studio into a museum on her death).
Emin seemed preoccupied by her longevity as an artist — the importance of the work being remembered and looked after. But, as in her work, her vulnerability came across most strongly of all.
When I asked her what she would most like to forget (a question we put to all our NS interviewees), she said, after cigarettes, “I’d like to forget sometimes who I am.” And when I asked why, she responded: “It’s a lot to take on, isn’t it?”
Read the interview in the magazine out now. A longer version will be published online on Monday.