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Tracey Emin, “Bed” (1999) (image from Saatchi Gallery)

When a female Duke student’s “fuck list” went viral, the entire online world was exposed to her in-depth list of male conquests, a PowerPoint presentation of sex that was less sexy than academic: men were rated in categories that ranged from “creativity” and “entertainment” to the more standard “size” and “physical attractiveness.”

Framed as “thesis research,” the document is so detailed that at times it actually reads more like research than fun. As a symptom of our always-online generation and the culture of omnipresent social media, the list is another example of oversharing, aptly summed up by Urbandictionary.com as “providing more personal information than is absolutely necessary. Typically done when two or more people are conversing and details of one’s sexual life creep into the discussion.” This immediately sounded familiar. A certain Young British Artist came to mind.

Back in the day (the day being the nineties) Tracey Emin was the absolute queen of oversharing, presaging all of our Livejournal, Facebook, and Twitter antics and putting as much of her life out there as she possibly could. Emin didn’t hold back the craziness either, just like your friend who drunkenly tweets from a particularly extreme night out or Emily Gould, pieces like “Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963 – 1995” (1995), a tent embroidered quite literally with everyone the artist has slept with from her parents as a child to friends and lovers later, exposed private life on an intimate level. The piece broadcasted personal tragedies and recoveries poetically through art. “My Bed” (1999) did much the same in a gut-wrenching display of inner life: Emin installed her bed, the same that she had been marooned in for days with a suicidal depression, in a gallery and let it all hang out, from dirty underwear and condoms to slippers and dirty clothes: ordinary life out loud.

Jump forward 10, 15 years. We live in a world of intimacy broadcast at large. We know our friends’ inner thoughts and experiences in real time, as they are thought and experienced. Facebook keeps us up on relationships, status updates portending personal tragedies. We know when someone is at the coffee shop, at home, stuck in bed, moaning about it online. The difference is that the availability of real time emotional intimacy makes pieces like “My Bed” seem conservative in their willingness to divulge. The “Duke Fuck List” girl begs Emin to rate everyone she ever slept with on a sliding scale, with bonus points, and email it out to friends. The life details become cold, clinical. Emin no longer reaches anywhere near the heights of oversharing.

The “Duke Fuck List” research methodology (from Jezebel.com)

I don’t think this is a bad thing, oversharing is just the state we live in. I’ve spent my life on the internet telling people about what happens to me, my every new emotion saved in some Gmail archive years past and a series of outdated blogs. Emin’s pieces were shocking for their time, epic personal dramas that play out on a public stage. The difference is that today, every personal drama is huge, every one is public. Twenty comments on a Facebook thread today is worth the Turner Prize in 1999.

I found an article this morning. It’s called “Every Boy I’ve Kissed“, and it’s by a seventeen year old girl. Thousands upon thousands of people will read Rebe Zeva’s essay and know that she kissed her first hipster at age fourteen. Public emotional intimacy is nothing new, as we see in Emin, but it has reached new heights of mundanity.

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

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