For You by Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin

For You, 2008, Neon light, Liverpool Anglican Cathedral; Commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of Liverpool Cathedral, © 2021 Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS, London / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo: David Colbran / Alamy Stock Photo

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Abiding in the Tent

Commentary by
Read by Ben Quash

O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? (Psalm 15:1 NRSV)

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? (Psalm 24:3 NRSV)

What qualities must a person have, to come close to God? Psalms 15 and 24 open with searching questions of worshippers seeking admittance—literally or metaphorically—to God’s Temple, evoked by images of a tent and of a hill (15:1; 24:3). The latter calls to mind the ‘hill of the Lord’ whose ascent Jewish tradition most celebrated: Mount Zion.  

A different place of worship, Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, is today home to a richly suggestive work of contemporary art. Read in the light of these psalms, its very inhabitation of this sanctuary obliquely poses a modern echo of those ancient questions. Who may dwell on your holy hill? (15:1)

Tracey Emin’s For You, in joyously lurid pink neon, is at first sight an incongruous presence in Giles Gilbert Scott’s massive ecclesiastical building. It enshrines a sentence, in the artist’s own handwriting, glowing with a constant, chemical light below the large stained-glass window at the west end, near to where people enter. With a confessional honesty at odds with neon’s commoner associations—with advertising, city pleasures, and commodified sex—it reads: ‘I Felt You And I Knew You Loved me’. First installed as part of Liverpool’s year as European City of Culture in 2008, it has become a popular and abiding presence on this ‘holy hill’.

The words are intimate. The verbs—‘feeling’, ‘knowing’, ‘loving’—are as insistently relational as the capitalized ‘I-You-I-You-me’ of their confession. Such a confession might be one made in prayer, but it looks a lot more like one from a love letter or the bedroom. And it is of course for her unmade bed—‘My Bed’ (1998)—and for her embroidered tent listing ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995’ (1995) that Emin is best known. She has spoken openly of her experiences of underage sex, sexual violence, abortion, alcohol abuse, depression, and thoughts of suicide (e.g. Emin 2005; Cork 2015). The enshrining in this temple of the love of this woman—messy and ambiguous, sensual and devoted—makes space for real experience: for desire (eros), and universal love (agape) to dwell in the ‘tent’, ‘holy’ or otherwise.

 

References

Cork, Richard. 2015. Face to Face: Interviews with Artists (London: Tate Publishing)

Emin, Tracey. 2005. Strangeland (London: Hodder and Stoughton)


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