Tracey Emin has complained to the police of ‘harassment’, after a spoof letter purportedly written by her was sent to some of her neighbours in Spitalfields. It was written in childish handwriting, similar to her now iconic style (but spelled correctly, which made it instantly suspect). It outlined her supposed plans for the Tenter Ground weaving works, an old Huguenot factory she is restoring: a swimming-pool was mentioned, along with the fact that she didn’t like traditional building methods.
She bought the building last year to a small fanfare of publicity. There was positive coverage in, among other places, the Observer (‘Emin pays £4 million to save art district’), the Evening Standard (‘Emin weaves £4 million scheme to keep art in Spitalfields’) and the Times property supplement (‘Tracey Emin is leading the battle to save the “cultural heart” of East London from developers’). In interviews, Emin got all nostalgic, telling the Observer that the whole area used to be ‘full of artists… the rents were still comparatively low and there were lots of our friends living around us and using freezing-cold studios.’ Colliers, the agent who handled the sale of Tenter Ground, said she said she ‘made the acquisition to ensure the building remained in use by artists’. This all sounds very altruistic and noble, until you read the bit where she says: ‘I will be working there on my own.’
The building was on the market for just £1.5 million. Her £4 million included the cost of buying out the leases of the artists who already had studios there, in order, as Colliers explained, to add ‘8000 square feet of space to Ms Emin’s portfolio’. Presumably, the artists who were there before are now making whatever they were once making in central Spitalfields in Hackney Wick or Stratford. They’ve had to move on, like Tracey’s friends.
And there are questions about how far she would have been saving the building if she’d had her way, given that her initial planning application was refused by Tower Hamlets council on the grounds that the ‘substantial demolition’ of the back of the building wouldn’t enhance its character or appearance. The planning department also had concerns about the four-metre-high, windowless wall on the new three-storey extension. And about the loading bay, ‘for the access of large art works and materials’. And about the roof terrace, even though its ‘strategic planting’ would create an area of ‘biodiversity within a dense urban fabric’. Revised plans have now been submitted, and passed.
Still, most people (outside Spitalfields) won’t mind all this very much. As Fake Tracey put it in her letter: ‘I might be a famous Turner Prize artist with a national collection of modern British art at the Tate, but you know, at heart, I’m still just your neighbour, Tracey.’