Telling stories: performing authenticity in the confessional art of Tracey Emin

The expressionist art of Tracey Emin is often labeled as confessional because of its intimate subject matter, which draws on the artist’s personal experiences of sexual abuse, erotic escapades, pregnancies, and abortions. Combined with Emin’s unrefined esthetic, such as her hand-written text or her sloppily-styled installations, seemingly autobiographical details emerge with a powerful sense of immediacy and work to establish an ostensibly authentic tone. But for all of its implications of veracity, how far does Emin’s confessional art disclose any truth? By analyzing parts of it through the classical figure of Penelope as well as the theories of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, I argue that the art of Tracey Emin reflects a complex notion of authenticity, one that is entangled with performance and which exposes that confessional truth-telling can be, and often is, a form of storytelling.