The following is a conversation between Gary Indiana and Tracey Emin at the Standard Hotel.
A room at the Standard. Night. An Alice Neel documentary on the TV with the sound off.
—Mary Woronov said that before she could start painting, she was like a dog trying to figure out where to take a shit, going around and around, and I do the same thing every morning for about three hours with writing.
—Then you’ve got writer’s block.
—Late onset writer’s block.
—Still it’s called a writer’s block. What you have to do is, first, I’m sure you have a note pad by your bed, but you have to have it right there. It doesn’t matter how bad the writing is. I can show you some, you write the first thing you’re thinking of, and as soon as you’ve written a word it’s like: fuck being a painter or an artist, you’ve destroyed a page, you’ve destroyed your idea, you look at it and think, what the fuck does that say? And that inspires you because you’re a visual person, so maybe for you writing’s pretty difficult, like it is for me. If I could be satisfied with writing, I’d be such a successful writer. And if I were satisfied with visual things – I’m quite sure I’m never going to be. If you give me the choice between writing or visual, I will go with writing any day.
—I found it easy to write when I was younger. A lot more than I do now. Writing could completely take me in, and made up for a lot of things that were not in my life, frankly. And now, first of all, I’m incredibly hypervigilant, perfectionistic to an idiotic degree. Because I know it doesn’t end up being anything perfect, anyway. No matter how much you fuss with it.
—You mean things you make that are visual? Or – your handwriting? You look at your handwriting – oh, no, I know what you’re talking about. Like when I make neons. You write something, and you think, that feels good, that looks good, it feels like it’s a thing, it’s moved from the heart to the soul to the mind to the eye, it’s working, it’s a full-circle thing. It’s an action, writing is an absolute action.
—Oh, on TV the other night, that film United 93, 83? The fourth plane on 9/11?
—I didn’t see it.
—It’s not a film I would normally watch, it was just on. I had the TV on as sort of an ambient visual, but towards the end, all these people had phones in the – in the headrest, and they were saying, “Just tell my family I love them,” “Just tell my wife I love her” – and I thought, well, of course, that’s what life is. That’s all it comes down to. “The plane is going to crash now, I love you.”
(story about a diver trapped in an underwater cave leaving a love letter)
—Do you have anyone to say that to? When the plane’s taking off, or the plane’s landing, do you have anyone to text, or – I have my mum, but she’s 84 and I have Docket, my cat, he doesn’t speak on the telephone any more. No one knows where I am.
—J. is the only person who knows where I am when I’m not here. Or when I am here.
—Do you care about anyone apart from J.? If my plane had crashed, would you have been upset?
—Of course I would. I love you.
—OK, so it’s not about who loves you, it’s about who you love that’s important. Now, I know lots of people love you, they are very fond of you, but you have to put the effort in.
—I don’t get to meet people. Most people I care about are not here. Vera lives in Berlin, Mike is in Dorset, Richard is in Havana. So if I want to see people I’m really close to I have to make all these stupid decisions. Like now, I have a window of two weeks –
—Was Vera a model?
—Her dad nearly killed Hitler.
—Yes, he tried –
—I met her 12 years ago. She wouldn’t remember me. We were both modeling for Vivienne Westwood.
—We’ve been close for 30 years. It’s weird how things go, because –
(a long story)
—the point is, she lived in Brooklyn for ten years, and I hardly saw her. Because generally, you also had to see him.
—How much younger was he?
—Did you think it’s wrong that women are with younger men?
—Of course not. We were all happy she had this young guy, with lots of sexual stamina, and even, you know, creativity – it’s just nobody could stand him. The thing is, I would have even put up with it, but I always ended up getting in a fight with him. A verbal brawl. There was just something about him that got under people’s skin. So now –
—Say you’ve had a run of making really good drawings, and have to shift to something you haven’t done, like ceramics—
—I have. I made pots. I made some pots.
— No one buys my drawings. No one buys my paintings. Actually my paintings do sell, but I don’t make them. If I just made neons and blankets – if I just made blankets I’d become the richest woman in the whole fucking universe, but I would rather cover myself in paraffin and set myself alight than make another blanket for money.
—All I’m saying is I don’t know how to write about myself. And it’s a memoir.
—I haven’t read it, have I?
—It’s a style problem.
—-Is it in the style of Scott Fitzgerald? Is it in the style of Arthur Miller? Guess what, is it in the style of D. H. Lawrence? Or is it in the style of this – I’m never going to mention that name –
(holds up idiotic celebrity magazine)
—I wish it was in the style of that, people would buy it.
(Gertrude Stein story)
—You just said the word ‘stodgy.’ A great stodgy woman.
—I meant physically.
—You say that and I think: old men, big powerful men, it doesn’t matter what they look like, still everybody wants to fuck them and sit on their face and everything, right? When women get older, the less anyone wants to be with them.
—I met Jeanne Moreau, she’s definitely old. And all I could think was, “I want to fuck her.”
—Maybe you’re heterosexual.
—I doubt it.
—Maybe you just got it all wrong with your life. You fucked up big time, god, what a faux pas. Imagine, you could have been happily living with some beautiful old lady now, sitting around by a fire, reading books together, having intellectual conversations with your grandchildren. Instead you went down the other route. And also, you still could have fucked them in the ass, you know. Should we order a small wine? I tell you what. Can you see?
—To some extent.
—Because I have a tiny torch, and it went missing. I know who took it. One of the cleaners. They desperately need it for their work.
—Do you want me to look for it?
—Not the tiny torch, but I want you to press the button for Room Service – if you press the main button they know you’re a lunatic.
—Tracey, nobody can see that. It isn’t your eyes are bad. Look at this, it’s the filmiest imprint –
—I know, I’ve written a report to give to them. Did you sit on my mouse?
(knitted gray mouse on the bed)
—I look for R-O-M, then I press this one –
You have reached the hotel operator. Please remain on the line for the next available –
Room Service, this is Tim.
—Oh hi Tim, hello can we have room service please, inside dining it’s called – can we have a bottle of your, some of your chablis, please? We’ve got a half bottle, can we have a whole bottle?
—And can we have some ice?
—Ice, ice baby.
(really a great deal of laughter)
—Sorry, that wasn’t funny.
—That anybody remembers that is funny.
I thought it was funny.
—OK, and maybe just bring the drink up and we’ll order food after that.
—It’s the obvious thing to order a hamburger in a hotel. I’ve been in two different hotels in LA, and in France for six weeks, and went home for two days, then I was in fucking France again, then I came here, I went somewhere else really weird for one day in between, I can’t remember where it was – oh, Margate. Margate. Over a hundred and seventy five thousand visitors.
—That’s great. That’s you, dear. That’s you.
—So did you like Bonnie?
—Bonnie Clearwater. What a name. How could a name better suit a person.
—I really liked her.
—She was so happy that she met you, because she knew who you were and everything, but she was so worried about how it could possibly relate to my work, and you writing about me and the films, because she thought you could probably write very well about my writing, or the more poetic side or whatever, but she’s thinking how could it relate to the sex and rock and roll side or whatever. Well, not that, she was very serious about this, because that’s what the film show is. She doesn’t think you’re like that, she thinks you’re kind of a poetic artisan within yourself, and she’s thinking how can an artist write about another artist on this level, and then afterwards she was so happy about it.
—Well, she probably doesn’t know the side of my work that –
—No, she knows, she used to be a curator of the Rothko collection when she was 24, and she is so eminent, and so – it’s like talking about Filipo, you know? People in 20 years’ time will say, "Well, maybe he didn’t know about what so and so did," yes he did. And she did, when she was young. And now she only does what she wants to.
—This is why you always say hamburger, because you can’t read the menu. I’m going to turn this light on. That’s better. Oh, look. Iceberg wedge. Grilled fois gras, you would have a heart attack. Hello? Can I have the In Room Dining please?
Thanks for calling Room Service, this is Tim.
—Oh hi Tim, this is room 923 again, we know what we want to eat, if it helps – two iceberg wedges.
We actually don’t have the iceberg wedge any more, we have a Waldorf salad –
—What’s it got, nuts in it and stuff? My friend is screwing his face up.
—I know there are a lot of crumbly old men who are really nice. But they’re also loaded, so you can’t argue that –
—What age do you think is crumbly?
—OK, so under 70 it’s not crumbly. You’re making the rule now, so I want to know what isn’t crumbly.
—Under 70 is pre-crumbly.
—What if someone’s really intelligent, really funny, really doesn’t give a fuck and is really entertaining, and he’s fit, and he’s like 71 –
—Tracey, I don’t believe any of this. We like young people because they’re beautiful, and they’re unformed. We love older people because they’re wise and intelligent. An intelligent, beautiful young woman does not want to sleep with –
—Usually they’re fucking not. Intelligent. They’re just being fucked, right? Because men have the young mistresses or whatever. The women don’t have the fucking brainset or the whereby-all, they can’t actually book a taxi on their own. If you’re truly beautiful and that’s what gets you through, you can’t do very much apart from being beautiful.
—But with men also. There is no young, beautiful man who wants to be with a 71-year-old man. There just isn’t.
—I met Don Bachardy two days ago, and he said he was completely in love with his person, Christopher Isherwood.
—One reason that story’s famous is that it’s a rare exception to what I’m saying.
—How come that was acceptable, but other people can’t fall in love?
—I’m not saying they can’t.
—Lots of young people really love me. But they don’t want to be with me. They want to be around me.
—Everybody wants to be around you.
—No, no, no, this is really important, they love the association – no one’s ever going to look at you and desire you again. But. I wish I’d been with someone when I was young who could have loved me all the way through.
—I do too, but it didn’t happen.
—Do you think that’s why we’re on our own, and can’t stay in one place? I feel I’ve given up on all of it.
—Well, I have.
—When did you come out?
—I was never in.
—When did your mum and dad notice you were shagging a boy not a girl?
—They noticed before I was shagging anybody.
—And they were cool about it?
—How was that for you?
—Bad. My father was all right –
—Cause he was gay.
—I think he was, actually.
—I think if I’d’ve been at school, and there had been good role models of women, I would have thought, “Oh, I’ll just be with women.” Last week I decided I was never having sex again. But how can you spend the rest of your life never having sex, or never eating? When I was very young I never ate.
—I didn’t either. Even now I don’t eat.
—The less I eat the happier I am. I can go four or five days without eating.
—Writing about years ago, I couldn’t remember ever eating anything.
—And it could be really important. I went here, I went there, I ate this, I ate that. I think you met my friend Amanda. She landed at 6 in the morning from Australia, comes to my house, we went out, it was about nine at night, she said, “Tracey, we have to eat.” I said, “We are gonna eat, we are.” She said “Where.” I said, “Tomorrow.”
Should I open this for you?
(struggle uncorking bottle)
—Is that giving you problems?
I’m not a fucking engineer, am I.
—I feel when I look in the mirror, I really, physically detest myself.
—It can’t be worse than me. Seven or eight years ago the last thing I liked about my face went. Whatever it was.
—I wish I was fitter, and I wish I hadn’t fallen over the other week and smashed my elbow – If I want to fuck a gigolo, god, easy – if I want some sort of boring middle-aged person I can get one. I don’t want that. I want the same person that turned me on when I was really beautiful, when I was 19 or 20. It’s impossible. It’s over, especially if you’re a woman. ‘Cause men only want to fuck women who can have children. It’s their ego, they want to go on forever and ever and ever, and they can’t possibly understand what just loving and adoring someone, loving someone’s mind, loving someone’s soul, loving someone’s body, a lot of men just don’t go past that. They just stop when they’re about 35, and they don’t progress. I didn’t expect to live past 22. I have, and I’ve done exceptionally well, and – I think about those beach photos in magazines, I always imagine there’ll be one of me, and it’s going to say, “OK at 50.” “All right at 50.” Not like, “Does she really look 50? Oh God look at her stretch marks,” or this or that – they can’t really say anything bad, or anything good, because I’m not trying hard. But. If I tell someone I’m 39, they want to fuck me. If I tell them I’m 49, they won’t. Men do not want to fuck women over the age of 38. Because they know they can’t get them pregnant. If you’re a lovely person with loads of money, they go, “OK, I’ll just hang out with her, she’s fun. Why bother shagging her?” I’m totally aware of this. I’m glad that I’m aware of it, really.
—In Havana I have what I always wanted here, but it’s unreal, because I don’t really have it –
—Because you can only be there for 30 days at a time. Whenever you extend the visa, the Americans put you on a terrorist watch list.
Previously - Melancholia