By Kat Hayes
The Last Great Adventure Is You sees former wildchild, rebellious, outspoken and self-proclaimed loudmouth of British Art in a surprisingly reflective mood.
There’s no mistaking that The Last Great Adventure Is You is an Emin vehicle, neon text scrawled in her distinctive spiky hand litters the walls, and the female sketches that preoccupy the majority of the show could be none other. But there’s also a distinct but subtle softening of this same hand, in much the same way that – to use an abstract analogy – stiff leather shoes become flabbily comfortable over time.
It’s barely audible at first, bright pink neons bedeck the White’s Cube’s glassy entrance but the more you take in, the more it comes to the fore. It’s quieter somehow, more delicate, older even. Emin sums this feeling up eloquently in a poignant and well-judged video in the White Cube’s generous halls speaking candidly to the camera. We discover that the various references to painful past experiences, the rage and the visceral and raw experiences of growing up in a somewhat bleak seaside town are gone, and what replaces them is Emin as a middle-aged woman.
As the artist points out, she is no longer the lithe 20 something whipper-snapper of her earlier drawings, so it felt incoherent to keep drawing them. With that, the Last Great Adventure clicks into place – you notice the subtle differences in the figures adorning the walls, they’re are softer, wider limbed, vaguely rotund, older, with large and flat brushstrokes.
But it’s not just herself that Emin explores, traditional art practices also get a look in. Large truncated bronzes of female torsos lie prostate in the largest of the White Cube’s halls, which again reference her own ageing figure. The bronzes do have echoes of Rodin. Although it is fair to say that Emin’s no Rodin, but that’s by the by. The figures are roughly formed, but her thumb prints are clearly visible in the bronze, something Emin finds quite titillating evidently as she talks about at great length in the accompanying video. The mark of the artist’s hand lends the figures a sense of authenticity and an almost in-progress feel.
Hand-woven enormous figures in thick black wool are a treat, imposing in scale but delicate- harking back to traditional female crafts and tapestries. They’re also positioned masterfully – as white light tumbles in through the skylights to create a chapel-like space in the gallery that surrounds the prone effigies.
What’s crucial about the show is although at face value, what’s on offer here seems in keeping with the artist’s substantial oeuvre, but it’s the approach that’s quite different. Emin is, for all intents and purposes a big commercial success and savvy businesswoman (and for which, at a price, rightly or wrongly, you can have your very own slogan neon-ed in the artist’s hand). Although Emin is an artist who has experienced huge commercial success, there’s enough intimacy on show here to subvert the beautifully cavernous halls of the White Cube. She has managed to create something that feels a whole lot more personal – and not in the confrontational angry way you’d expect but an older, more introverted and honest assessment of herself. With this in mind even the text in the wall mounted neons, which are as scratchily written as ever, seem softer.
Whilst some reports of the Last Great Adventure suggested Emin had not lost the power to shock , I’m not sure this was quite the goal. I don’t doubt she has lost any of that power, after all joining the Tory party (as reported extensively) is perhaps one of the more shocking and rebellious things an artist can do these days. And for the erotically sensitive, this show will also deliver the usual overtly graphic imagery. However, I came away from the show feeling I’d been gifted a brief glimpse inside the artist’s studio and even Emin herself.
Perhaps this is what’s surprising and fresh, is that an artist at the height of her powers, take the chance to reflect in such a large-scale show, rather than challenge. Either that or that the desire to shock is what’s been blunted, along with the sharp savageries of youth. For now, at least.