Emin's Tracey Emin CV consists of nine A4 pages covered in the artist's handwriting in turquoise ink. She has numbered the pages in pencil at the top right hand corner. The text recounts, in note form, the significant events of Emin's life, beginning with conception (together with her twin brother) 'in Ireland 1962', up until 1995. These events include her education and professional trajectory, as is usual in a curriculum vitae, as well as more personal experiences and her feelings about them. Mixing her sexual experiences and emotional reactions with her training as an artist and the achievement of qualifications, Emin suggests that all these elements have equal importance in the making of 'Tracey Emin' (the public persona). This proposes emotional experience as part of her qualifications to be an artist and at the same time transforms the curriculum vitae, from which such material is usually omitted, into a more rounded self-portrait. Since her self-published book Exploration of the Soul 1994 (an edition of 200), in which she recounted her life from conception to rape at the age of thirteen, Emin has consistently based her art on the story of her life. In a manner similar to her book, Emin's CV offers the allegedly authentic recounting of the artist's life as the artwork itself.
The reconciliation of life and art is a particularly overt tension in the narrative of Emin's CV. After beginning but not completing a fashion diploma at Medway College of Design (she wrote 'was advised to go see a pshciotrist [sic] - as I was condemning myself to life on the dole - '), Emin did a foundation course at John Cass School of Art in London, where she learnt print-making two days a week. In 1983 she was offered a place at Maidstone College of Art where she spent '3 of the happy 1st [sic] years of my life - learning so much so quickly - leave in LOVE with EDVARD MUNCH - and a First Class honours degree'. This seminal period of artistic enlightenment is followed by a passionate and drunken interlude with a married Turkish fisherman eighteen years her senior (in Turkey) before she went to the Royal College of Art in London for two years of further art education. This did not live up to expectations and Emin describes the period as: 'Absolutely amazing - after all that I'd been through - I'd say - these were the worst two years of my life - '. The text then moves to the end of an abusive relationship, after which Emin concludes: 'A victim no more - weak sad time of life - no self respect - too poor'. But things get worse as she becomes pregnant in 1990 and has an abortion that 'went wrong', followed by a second abortion in 1992 done 'without heart'. The narrative climax is reached at the bottom of page seven: 'middle 1992 - commited [sic] emotion suiside [sic]' and explained on the following page: 'Emotional suiside [sic] - is killing your self - without dying - destroyed each - friendship + relationship - one - by one - till I was alone - destroyed all my art - left my studio - through [sic] away my curtains - my carpet - my cusions [sic] - my comfort - made my home a cell - + waited -'. Despair is followed, in typical Emin fashion, by the beginnings of her public recognition as an artist as she starts to conceptualise her expressive potential and is signed up by White Cube gallery in London in 1993.
The artist's self-portrait provided by Emin's CV is consistently ambiguous. In the early pages Emin describes her rape down an alley at the age of thirteen, followed swiftly by the onset of puberty (graphically described through the growth of body hair) and the discovery of the pleasure of sex described as 'fantastic' and 'wonderful' as well as the artist's appetite for it ('shag - shag - shag' and 'bang - bang - bang'). This is accompanied by an account of being kicked in the face and suffering other humiliations from a pair of males, who expose and ridicule her genitals. Her relationship with artist, poet and musician Billy Childish (born 1959) is thus described as 'distruction [sic] resurrection'. As in her video Why I Never Became A Dancer 1995 (Tate T07314), the artist documents her abuse by men and then redeems it through her trajectory of learning not to be 'a victim'. Like many of her works, Emin's CV is simultaneously a means for the artist to exorcise her humiliation and, literally, to transform traumatic past events into something positive. This creative attitude is encapsulated in the words she appliquéed on a chair she inherited from her grandmother in 1994: 'It's not what you inherit. It's what you do with your inheritance.'
Tracey Emin CV is accompanied by a video, Tracey Emin CV Cunt Vernacular 1997 (Tate T07633), the sound-track of which is Emin reading her CV aloud.
Neal Brown, Sarah Kent, Matthew Collings, Tracey Emin: I Need Art Like I Need God, exhibition catalogue, Jay Jopling/White Cube, London 1998
Stuart Morgan, 'The Story of I: Interview with Tracey Emin', Frieze, issue 34, May 1997, pp.56-61
Lynn Barber, Gregor Muir, Robert Preece, 'Tracey Emin', Parkett, issue 63, 2001, pp.22-63