Life & Style
Tracey's diary has text appeal
Friday 8 July 2011
If I kept every text message I'd received in ten years and turned them into a book, I tell Tracey Moberly, it would be a very boring book indeed. But then I don't count the likes of Banksy, Pete Doherty and artist Gavin Turk among my text buddies.
I have not quested to Siberia, Haiti and Colombia, agitated artistically against corporations such as Coca-Cola, nor released a thousand pink balloons over Manchester to seek out random new text friends. Tracey Moberly, 47, has done all this, and much more.
So TEXT-ME-UP! - which weaves some of the 60,000 texts she has received into a narrative about her life - is a jostling, lavishly-illustrated compendium of art, protest, humour and autobiography.
There is also poignancy. In the book's preface, we see a text that never reached its destination. On a discarded mobile phone, two years after her father's death following a stroke, the artist found a text which started "It's dad", but was, for whatever reason, never completed and never sent to his only child.
The idea for Moberly's laborious preservation of her texts began in 1999 in Manchester when she accidentally deleted the very first text she ever received, from a member of Manchester band Toss The Feathers. It was at a time when Moberly's first marriage was coming to an end and she was getting consoling messages.
"I'd be on a bus on a rainy September day coming down Oxford Road and this little sugar rush would ping in to my phone," she says. "I thought, I can't throw these away. They were saying really valuable things to me.
"People put things in texts they would never ever say. Some of them disgusting."
As years went on, Moberly realised that text messaging was being used not just for idle chat but to organise protests and demonstrations round the world, and that it was altering the way we communicate with each other, arguably for the better.
There is a darker side, though.
"I know so many people whose relationships have broken down from someone finding a text message," she says.
Brought up in South Wales, Moberly, then Tracey Wood, graduated from Newport School of Art and, at 21, stuck a pin in a map to decide that Manchester would be her next home.
It was while working on a dig in Castlefield that she met her first husband Greg Sanders, an archeologist, with whom she had two sons Izaac, now 19, and Jake, 20.
She lectured at Manchester Metropolitan University through the second half of the 1990s, adding Tony Wilson to her widening circle of friends.
"Tony was fantastic. I used to take groups of students down to his flat and he'd just do an hour-long lecture," Moberly recalls.
She then became involved in one of her most famous pieces of activist art, defacing a notoriously risque billboard campaign by holiday firm Club 18-30.
"My boys were in the back of the car and one of them said: 'What's the summer of 69?'," she says. "I'm not usually a prude, but it really got me. Why should they be allowed to advertise like that? It's really exploitative of young people. So I got a group of women together and we put safe sex slogans over every single one of them."
Moberly's first TEXT-ME-UP! exhibition - using those texts in artworks - was held in Manchester in 2000. Soon after, she moved to London and married Jonathan Moberly with whom she ran the Foundry arts venue. In her orbit were the likes of Turk, a young Doherty and graffiti artist Banksy.
Doherty was "very talented, very bright, a wonderful person with an enormous amount of drive. That's why I hate the whole thing of how drugs seem to take over in the music industry and then all the **** starts happening. It ruins people's lives, spoils careers."
When the Foundry was closed down and earmarked for demolition and replacement with a hotel, Moberly, with Banksy's encouragement, destroyed eight of the artist's wall works rather than chance seeing them exploited commercially.
"So I must be the only person gouging out and painting over Banksys with his blessing," she muses.
Moberly did work in Russia which made her so renowned that she has been asked by Roman Abramovich's other half Dasha Zhukova to launch the book there at the contemporary art gallery Zhukova opened in Moscow.
She has worked with comedian and activist Mark Thomas, Tony Benn, Irvine Welsh - the list goes on.
She has even turned some of those supposedly disposable texts into painstaking embroideries, including one message from Pete Doherty: "Eels slip down a treat".
"He was teaching me how to eat pie, mash and jellied eels, and I couldn't. It was like cold, wet dog," she says.
"TEXT-ME-UP! by Tracey Moberly was launched last night at Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, and is published by Beautiful Books at £20