Tracey Emin
Hate and Power Can be a Terrible Thing 2004

Artwork details

Tracey Emin born 1963
Hate and Power Can be a Terrible Thing
Date 2004
Medium Textiles
Dimensions Object: 2700 x 2060 x 3 mm
Acquisition Purchased 2004
Not on display


This is a textile-based work which hangs on the wall. Emin used an old pink wool blanket, cut in two and intersected with a cotton extension in the same shade of pink, as the basis for a landscape of text. The work is dominated by the words, ‘PERMISSION TO FIRE/ ENZINE’ in large black capitals. An English flag incorporating the Union Jack in one corner bisects these words on the upper half of the blanket and trails a section of rope terminating in a metal clip. Individual flowers cut out from floral print fabrics are appliquéd across the flag and the blanket behind. On the left side of the blanket are the words ‘YOU CRUEL HEARTLESS BITCH/ YOU HAVE NO IDEA OF FAITH’ in blue and red felt on sections of pink and blue floral fabric. These are balanced on the right by the words ‘I HATE WOMEN LIKE YOU/ ONE DAY YOU WILL ASK YOURSELF WHAT HAVE I DONE TO [sic] LATE’ in turquoise, mustard and pale pink felt on blue green and orange floral fabrics. Below the flag and the word ‘enzine’, a misspelling of ‘ensign’, are the words ‘GUESS WHAT/ THE WORSE I COULD DO IS BETRAYE [sic]/ ROT IN HELL’ in salmon, fluorescent pink, black and red felt. A small white felt dove accompanies them. These words are all composed of individual letters cut out and individually stitched to the blanket or another fabric appliquéd onto the blanket. Two small sections of plain white fabric contain texts hand-written onto them in the artist’s signature handwriting in pink biro. One poetically describes ‘800 men and boys/ their bodies floating/ like flotsam and /jetsam on the surf/ ice cold black/ waters, an eary [sic] grave,/ of which you invented’. The other accuses a woman of ‘Crimes against Humanity’, addressing her as ‘you, supposed mother – A mother who Reiked [sic] of Power CRAZY Hate and Fear, of all the terrible things that you did, in the name of political conquest’. The text elaborates ‘In 1982, A year so many conscripts did not got home – Because you, you killed them all.’ Along the bottom of the work, run the words ‘THERE’S NO ONE IN THIS ROOM WHO HAS NOT THOUGHT OF KILLING’ in four shades of blue. A small yellow satin label on the bottom right hand corner of the blanket bears the work’s title and date and the artist’s signature in black biro.

Emin’s first quilt, Hotel International 1993 (private collection), was exhibited at her career-launching first solo exhibition, My Major Retrospective, at White Cube Gallery in 1993. On it Emin had appliquéd the names of the significant members of her family and places in her life together with small sections of handwritten text recounting stories and events. Emin has subsequently appliquéd a chair, There’s A lot of Money in Chairs 1994 (White Cube, London), a tent, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With (1963-1995) 1995 (destroyed), a hinged box, All The Loving (Underwear Box) 1997 (Goetz Collection, Munich) and a growing series of quilts. Typically the quilts are made from an old wool blanket, roughly hemmed with blanket stitch. Capital letters cut out of felt and sections of fabrics – brightly coloured squares, printed flowers, hand-written text and drawings printed onto fabric – are all stitched to the base with deliberately large uneven stitching. Edges are left frayed; there is no attempt at a needlewoman’s meticulous craft. Instead, Emin’s quilts represent the idea of appliqué as a form of collage. Titled with such phrases and appellations as Mad Tracey from Margate, Everyone’s Been There 1997 (Goetz Collection, Münich), Psyco Slut 1999 (Lehmann Maupin, New York), Helter Fucking Skelter 2001 (Modern Collections, London) and Automatic Orgasm 2001 (Saatchi Collection, London), they transform the concept of the traditionally nurturing feminine craft of quilt-making into an arena for angry self-expression and revelation. The jumbled mixture of tenderness and anger found on the quilts suggests a drunkard’s stream of consciousness mutterings and rememberings. Emin’s earliest quilts recall periods in her life; her more recent quilts refer to the larger political arena. The ensign flag used in this work – the Royal Navy White Ensign or St George’s Ensign, which is flown on Royal Navy ships – the reference to 1982 and war, and the accusations of a guilty woman all indicate that Hate and Power can be a Terrible Thing is based on The Falklands War. This seventy-two day war fought in 1982 between Great Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands in the south Atlantic caused the death of nearly 900 men. Margaret Thatcher was the British prime minister at the time.

Further reading:
Neal Brown, Matthew Collings, Sarah Kent, Tracey Emin, exhibition catalogue, South London Gallery 1997.
Ten Years: Tracey Emin, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 2002
The Turner Prize 1999, exhibition brochure, Tate Gallery, London 1999, [pp.4-5].

Elizabeth Manchester
November 2004/revised October 2009