Tracey Emin

I've Got It All

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Medium/DimensionsInk jet print
CreditsCourtesy of the artist

Tracey Emin’s photographic self-portrait I’ve got it all appeared the same year as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s book Empire, a study of globalisation heralded as the Communist Manifesto of the 21st century. In Empire the emphatic assertion of immaterial labour’s hegemony caught the pulse of an emerging global class of workers sustaining capitalism: their skills are communication, provision of affect and emotional service. Yet in 2000 little was said about the extent to which gender was a crucial parameter of immaterial labour. Emin’s self-portrait enacts a parody of the assumed genderless-ness of notions of success in an economy – including the art economy – populated by communication and affect workers.

Yet, contemporary capitalism is also sustained by unpaid mothers whose work – primarily of care and affect – carries no value. As materialist feminists have been arguing since the 1970s, this is despite mothers being responsible for the reproduction of the human species and also the workforce. In this photograph, a woman artist declares her choice: better be a valued artist than an undervalued mother. ‘Good mother’ and ‘successful artist’ remain mutually exclusive roles. They occupy the two poles of the unskilled/trivial/natural/anyone-can-do-it (maternal) work and the highly skilled/unique/cultural/exceptional (artistic) work in the axis of the immaterial labour regime of 21st-century capitalism.

I’ve got it all is a self-portrait of a career woman immersed in the creative economy. Yet her subjectivity is defined by the impossibility of having it all: money rather than a baby appears to spring out of the artist’s vagina. Normally a sign of capital’s ability to operate at the level of abstraction, money here becomes shockingly material, standing for the ‘aborted’ alternative of a life as a mother.