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Remember, Remember, 1999 in November

A Collection of Historical Fiction Vignettes ~ The British React to Tracey Emin's Nomination for the Turner Prize

By Caroline JanePublished 12 months ago Updated 12 months ago 11 min read
Tracey Emin's My Bed. Picture from Christies.com

Newsagent Jo

The morning clung to her in drizzles. She travelled through it, toward the city, barely there, hidden within a cloak of silence. A waft of a bus pass to a concrete gaze followed by a conscientious focus on avoiding everybody else's. Head down, through the back streets, she waddled and lolloped, winding between the strewn remains of last night's large nights, a postmodern archaeology beneath which the city's skin of tarmac and loose tooth cobbles lay stoic, their battle against nature's persistent uprising and humanity's relentless footprint wearing them thin.

Approaching unit 32B with its narrow bombproof shutter slashed in indecipherable graffiti tags, she reached into her cargo pant pocket for her bunch of gaolers keys. She readied the one with the grubby green plastic label. A fumble, a shove, and a jolt and the hinged metal coil shrieked up its rails into the Gods. Thirty bundles of 5-kilo newspapers lay behind it, reeking of fresh ink and threatening to topple forward like a teetering game of giant's Jenga. She tore the brown protective paper off the top of the nearest pile and stared at the black-and-white picture.

Huh.

It was her first utterance of the day.

For some reason, what looked like her bed was in the Tate.

Was there anywhere her misery wasn't mirrored?

Paperboy

Damn it, that wind is whipping up a storm today. I am never going to get me round done within my personal best, not even if I were to chance the snicket to get between Laurels and Birch. Never mind, I will have to go straight to school after; glad I put a clean shirt in my bag!

Hold the phone. What's this, then? Someone's put me Aunty Jean's bed in an art gallery! Ha! Bet me Mum will be gutted. She could have made thousands flogging it. Bet she wishes she hadn't spent all day yesterday tidying for her. She should've just carted it all over to the Tate and dumped it! Funny as. I shall pull her leg over that when she gets home later.

What else is going on?... Not much new... I see that the Russians are still attacking the Chechens, and, oh, that's interesting, Ukraine has voted for a non-communist. Brave, considering their neighbours.

Miranda and George Mellors

Have you seen that, George? Have you? Miranda extended her French manicured forefinger toward the Times paper that her husband had just started to read.

Not got there yet, my darling. What should I be looking at? George wiped his toast crumbs off the newspaper page and looked over the laden breakfast table for a jug of OJ to refill his glass.

That. She stabbed at the little grey picture top to the left.

Oh. George laughed. That bed's up for the Turner, hey? No surprise. That art lot are crackpots. God knows why you indulge them. This was only a matter of time. I don't understand why you appear so alarmed.

Miranda's eyes widened behind her red-rimmed spectacles as her bosom lifted her yellow, panelled dressing gown toward her chin. George. They are making art a sham. A sham. Verity Smith from Hawthorne Close has dedicated her life to acquiring her artistic talent. Her watercolour seascapes are exquisite. She has devoted years, George. Years. Then some MTV wannabe from Maidstone comes along and makes a mockery of her and all that she has worked for. Sweat, blood and tears, George, that is what Verity has given. Sweat, blood and tears... and this Tracey Emin just gets out of bed one day and goes tah-dah! No George. No.

Uh-huh, George nodded as he tried to read the picture's associated article, his wife's ongoing rant buzzing wasp-like in his periphery. It looks to me, darling, that sweat, blood, and tears are precisely what is happening in this picture.

Miranda whirled around, her mouth gaping. Do NOT joke, George. This is not funny. The very fabric that is the institution of art is under threat here. It is sacrilegious. It is poking fun at our great heritage of artists. Can't you see? Can't you?

George knew when to stop. He nodded and smiled. Today was a day when drinks after work were sure to be unavoidable.

University Lecturer Gordon

Gordon put his newspaper on his desk and leant back in his studded walnut and leather chair. In front of him, perched against a pile of heavy books, stood tall amidst the academic detritus of newspapers, journals, periodicals, and notes was a simple picture of loosely structured lines in blue, red and yellow forming a near generic picture of a small nuclear family, his nuclear family, out in the sunshine.

There was a pure and naïve joy to its light, bright scribble.

He smiled.

Daddy, I love you. His daughter had said as she handed him the picture.

How long would it be before she didn't, he wondered.

A Tate Steward

I applied for the job here thinking it was a nice space to work, you know, airy, no drama, no fireworks, no safety nets needed, no heavy lifting, all indoor work.

Pretty cool gig.

Recently, though, the great unwashed art admiration brigade seems to have multiplied in number, and a weird high-brow mob mentality is brewing. It's like stewarding a sniffier, slo-mo version of Beatle Mania, but in this case, the object of their fascination is a filthy bed. You could not write it. A bottle of disinfectant was thrown at it by one mad tart who wanted to clean its sheets. True story. Honest to goodness. She was in a right tizz that one. I wanted to say to her, it doesn't move, love; it's only a bed. It can't actually hurt you. Crazy. What is it with that bed? Last year in Tokyo, two fellas jumped up and down on it and had to be dragged off. I mean, got to be honest, tales be told, they were hardly going to be cast in a Lenor advert off the back of it. Who in their right mind would want to bounce about amongst that shit tip? The world's gone gaga.

I might transfer my skills to the National Gallery in Trafalgar. All their argy-bargy is contained inside big heavy frames. All their stewards have to do is stay awake for the day to get paid.

Socialite Sally

So, Mummy and I were talking, and I said that Josh knew Damien. You know, Damien Hirst, darling, the dead animal man. Ya. Ya. Anyway, she said all of this YBA art reminded her of the sixties. Ya, Warhol, darling. Ya. Subversive and salacious, you know. She said, follow the news, darling. Money is being made. She said Saatchi is after that bed. I know! Ha ha. What would one do with it if one owned it? One would have to seal off a wing or something to contain its malignancy; it is hardly a can of Campbell's.

By the way, Josh and I are going to the White Box on Saturday; want to join us for pre-show drinks? No darling, passe, Verve Cliquot.

Francis, Art Trader

Between you and me, it's like watching Rumpelstiltskin. No word of a lie. What? Who is spinning the wheel, you ask? Well, that never changes. It's like Nietzche said, A violin in the hand of the greatest master emits only a squeak if the hall is too big; there the master can be confused with any bungler.

Jane's Diary

Dad says that an unmade bed signifies a cluttered mind and a careless heart, and Mum says that no lady ever lived scruffily. If I do not change my sheets, clean, and vacuum my room every Saturday morning, all hell breaks loose. I can't have a friend over until my room is immaculate. It would be unseemly, impolite. How does a person get to the point where they are ok putting the worst bedroom anyone has ever seen on a plinth in a gallery? Does she not have parents? Do they not care? She is literally hanging her dirty washing out for all to see. It is like she has walked into a Women's Institute meeting and pulled a moonie!

Art Aristocrat

It was inevitable. Frankly, I am pretty blasé about the whole affair. The girls were going to get their version of Duchamp's Urinal one day. Surprised it took this long. All this sensationalism is tedious. We have been there. We have done that. Really. Was there any need?

I suppose one truth has emerged; it is proof that you can scribble a signature on anything and legitimise it.

What? Oh yes, Charlie, marvellous. Two fingers, thank you, old boy.

Jem and Sarah in the Salon

Hello Gorgeous. What are we doing today?

Just take it all off.

All of it? From everywhere?

Yep. Full Brazillian, please. We are running away to Spain for some winter sun, and I have a string bikini for the beach. I'll be damned if a spider's leg is going to ruin the look of this hard-fought-for beach bod.

You are looking great, Sarah. Are you sure you don't want to go a bit more natural? I believe the bush is making a comeback. Ha ha!

Dear God, no. Grooming is so important. How did they ever... I can't even... no. Just no. Who would want to be faced with all of that?

Tracey Emin's got a list of them attached to a tee-pee somewhere.

Oh God, she would. Have you seen that Bed?

Uh-huh. What. A. Skank.

Enough said. Get those wax strips onto me, for the love of all that is decent.

Ok, Sarah, your wish is my command. Let's get some Santana playing to set that Spanish mood for you, my lovely. Ok. Won't be a moment now. Here we go... and... Ready? One, two...

OOOOOOOOWWWW!

Miss Stott, Art Teacher, Year 11

Dear Headteacher,

Today, Molly brought a blank sheet of paper to class and presented it to me as her homework. I wondered at first if she had made a mistake, but no, it was a performance piece, apparently.

It's the void in my soul, Miss. She said to my mesmerised face. It's my white-washed femininity, a barren expression of indifference in the face of the patriarchy that rules the art establishment. There is no point in engaging because this is all I am to art.

After a moment of contemplation, during which, I confess, I had to suppress a tiny desire to laugh at the deadpan seriousness in her tone, I asked, From where did you divine the inspiration?

Tracey Emin, Miss.

First grade A I have ever given for non-completion of homework.

I believe you will understand.

Kind Regards, Miss Stott

Duncan Down The White Lion

Alreet Dave. Seen the Dailies? Ha ha - look at yer face, course you 'ave. No flies on you, is there? Well, bound to happen, weren't it? It's a proper Tracey move, ain't it? Traceys and Sharons, they're all the same. It were bound to happen. Bound to. Progressive moral disintegration. That's what this is. First, there's the chapped corned beef thigh and the scuffed white stiletto, and next we know we've got their dirty laundry in a bleeding gallery, and some chumps are paying to look at it. I said to Barry at work, I said I've got some crusty skid-marked Y-fronts at home; reckon I could throw 'em in a frame and enter them for the Turner prize next year. Make me'self a bob or two off the back of not wiping my arse!

HAHAHAHAHA!

Seriously though, me Dad would be turning in his feckin' grave if he knew his brother had lost his life int' war fighting for this kind of freedom.

World's gone to shit.

Creative Media Students Donna and Gulnaz

You know why I love that bed, Gulnaz.

Go on.

It's a postmodern freak show. It is the voyeurism of a new millennium. Life unaffected by the old grind-you-down gears of the traditional rumour mill. There are no twitching net curtains; nothing is pretending to be something that it isn't; there is no pretence at all. It is blatant, on-your-arse reality thrown into the face of the public with unadulterated audacity. Take me as I am, accept me at my worst, or do not take me at all. God, who knew it could be so refreshing to see life without any fucking filter.

Ha ha ha. It's a kind of warts and all candid camera.

More than that. It's Candid Camera where they know they are being watched. Emin stares into that virtual camera, saying, "This will give you something to talk about".

It's reality media for the twenty-first century. I think it is going to be revolutionary.

Sir Quentin Duvall, Bed Manufacturer.

That better not be one of my feckin' beds. Has anybody checked what make it is?

Jerry Jones, Public Speaker

The ceremonial and expansive Manchester Freemason's Hall was already filling with a steady, rumbling river of people. Jerry Jones listened as the hum of it incrementally grew in communal anticipation. Waiting quietly in the wings, he listened out for that pinnacle moment, the moment the anticipation steadied into a pulse. The moment he referred to as his "readiness to be received".

With his first step onto the stage, the amassed crowd of Marketers, Publicists, Personal Relations experts, and Sales People started to applaud.

He held up his hands to silence their rapturous welcome and, without the slightest affectation, began.

There are two things he said, staring straight out and into the heart of them all, two things he repeated to underscore his point forming a V with his forefinger and middle finger as a simple, universal visual, two things that every person who ever wanted to sell or promote anything should remember.

He paused to ensure he had secured the full attention of the room.

One... is timing. Knowing when, knowing where, and knowing why. He paused again and turned away from the crowd, lowering his hand and nodding in his certainty. The other, he said, turning back to face them squarely, is authenticity.

A picture of Tracey Emin's My Bed flashed onto the screen behind him, and a ripple of nervy laughter mumbled across the room.

He waited for the ripple to break.

Then he asked his esteemed crowd Who can tell me what Tracey Emin has in common with Aristotle?

Art Students Shaun and Ty

Shaun, who is your money on for the Turner this year?

McQueen. No question.

Not My Bed?

Nah. It is too limited in comparison to Drumroll. Have you seen it? A city of humanity is living inside it, a kinesthesia of life. One woman's feral, confessional shriek will never drown out the profundity of a whole city in complex murmuration. She has slashed into the dark. He has illuminated an entire landscape of human experience through his inimitable lens. McQueen is going to win.

I prefer My Bed.

Each to their own.

HistoryFiction

About the Creator

Caroline Jane

Warm-blooded vertebrate, domesticated with a preference for the wild. Howls at the moon and forages on the dark side of it. Laughs like a hyena. Fuelled by good times and fairy dust. Writes obsessively with no holes barred.

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Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

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Comments (4)

  • Dana Crandell12 months ago

    Imaginative, comical and believable. I enjoyed the way you approached this and the reaction of each character.

  • Very creative and unique. The paperboy was my fav

  • Naomi Gold12 months ago

    Very creative use of this image. As a former housekeeper, I just see a mess. You saw an entire story, and each character’s voices are so distinct.

  • A great idea is this for the Painted Prose Challenge because it is reactions to a piece of art. I know I do this a lot but I'll congratulate you on your Top Story an challenge win now. Excellent work

Caroline JaneWritten by Caroline Jane

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