This is one of the works Emin exhibited in her first solo exhibition, My Major Retrospective, at White Cube, London in autumn 1993. Believing she might never have another exhibition, the artist displayed objects she had collected over the years, including teenage diaries, souvenirs, toys, paintings, drawings, tiny photographic relics of destroyed work, unsent letters to boyfriends and relatives and her first quilt, Hotel International (1993, private collection). Framed memorabilia referring to her family and comprising photographs, text and objects include Me and Paul 1963-93 (private collection), Uncle Colin 1963-93 (private collection), Dad 1993 (Tate X08679) and May Dodge, My Nan.
May Dodge, My Nan comprises five individually framed elements mounted on the wall, two photographs from the family album, two relic-objects and a page of text. A black and white photograph of Emin as a little girl with her grandmother in a garden in the 1960s contrasts with a colour photograph of Emin as a young woman with May Dodge in a kitchen. Emin holds a white kitten and smiles at the camera while Dodge, sitting at the table, looks at something outside the frame. A magazine cutting of three ginger kittens, captioned ‘Timmy, Leo and Squashie posing beautifully for the camera’, is collaged onto a small paper doily. TRACY [sic], written in an elderly hand on a small piece of card, is stuck onto a short section of blue wool which emerges from under the magazine cutting like a handle on the doily. A home-made, scented pomander with the head of a doll is mounted in a glass and wood box with holes in the glass on two sides to allow the scent to disperse. Emin’s grandmother made this object from sections of soft knitted white cotton fabrics and lace gathered together over its scented stuffing and topped with a plastic doll’s head. She stuck animal fur on the head as hair and stitched a ribbon to hang the pomander from a hook. A page of handwritten text from the artist addressing her grandmother pays tribute to their loving relationship. It reads:
May Dodge - My Nan She’s 92 I call/ her Plum She calls me/ Pudding - / She made me the most beautiful/ baby clothes – white crocheted/ she made them for me a few/ years ago – She said at the time/ “I’ve made them for you now/ because – by the time you have a/ baby – I’ll be making clothes/ for angels./ Dear Nanny I’m not afraid anymore - / Life’s fantastic – who’d have thought/ I could make angels - /for you - / They’re waiting/ XXX
Emin’s framing and display of relics, of personal significance to her, recalls vitrines made by German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-86) and English artist Susan Hiller (born 1940). Hiller’s work, From the Freud Museum 1991-6 (Tate T07438) is a complex assembly of objects provoking questions of authorship and subjective interpretation through the framing of museum display and psychoanalytic analysis. Two vitrines from a series of thirteen by Beuys, both Untitled (Vitrine)1983 (Tate T03825 and T03826), contain made and found objects representing the principle themes of his life and work. Just as Emin’s CV, Tracey Emin CV 1995 (Tate T07632), presents her professional life interwoven with her private life, her displays of relics focus on her intimate personal relationships and significant events in her life. The incorporation of text, always in her signature handwriting, introduces a narrative voice explaining the objects’ emotional meaning for the artist. A year after making May Dodge, My Nan, Emin used a chair she had inherited from her grandmother as the basis of another artwork referring to their relationship. She appliquéd texts written on sections of fabric, including some of her grandmother’s sayings and their nicknames ‘Plum’ and ‘Pudding’, to the chair and titled it with the words There’s A Lot of Money in Chairs (White Cube, London) (see Outside Myself (Monument Valley, reading ‘Exploration of the Soul’) Tate T11888).
Ten Years: Tracey Emin, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 2002
Neal Brown, Matthew Collings and Sarah Kent, Tracey Emin, exhibition catalogue, South London Gallery 1997
Stuart Morgan, ‘The Story of I’, Frieze, issue 36, May 1997, pp.57-61