Installation view of Tracey Emin, The Vanishing Lake (2011). All images by Stephen White courtesy of White Cube.
The Vanishing Lake, Tracey Emin’s White Cube-curated exhibition housed at 6 Fitzroy Square, is a meditation on personal metamorphosis. A new series of self portraits that were inspired by her novel of the same name provide the exhibition’s focal point while other works—including textual light installations and large-scale tapestries of her provocative paintings—help create an overwhelming sense of romantic melancholia.
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The Georgian house located at 6 Fitzroy Square, which was a haven for artists and writers in the 18th century, provides a rich and rustic canvas for The Vanishing Lake. Green walls, cream molding and distressed wood floors bring warmth to the sparseness of Emin’s sketches. Furthermore, the house itself, which transitioned from an artists’ home to a bank in the early 19th century and has now been restored to its original domestic design, mirrors Emin’s personal and artistic transformation.
Emin introduces her exhibition with, “The vanishing lake is not a metaphor… It is a real lake… it is small and magical looking… but only exists from autumn to spring… in the summer… it is just a dry dusty barren bowl…The only metaphor is often…This is how I feel.” Emin’s new self portraits, prompted by this passage, demonstrate the artist’s multifaceted and sometimes fractured view of her identity.
A neon sign in cursive writing that reads “I followed you into the water knowing I would never return” greets visitors on their way in as well as waves goodbye when they exit. It’s a solemn statement of ill-fated devotion to bookend one’s experience at 6 Fitzroy Square. Similarly, the exhibition’s press release describes Emin’s embroidered texts and drawings as “pleas of unrequited love and touching melancholia.” Emin’s work has a subdued beauty that invites viewers to internalize her own fascination with the transience and transcendence of love, that elusive ‘vanishing lake.’