In the hypothetical case that Mary had, prior to filming last night’s episode of GBBO, ever had cause to debate Tracey Emin’s My Bed installation, the word ‘art’ would definitely have been pronounced in audibly inverted commas. Used condoms? Soiled knickers? I can imagine what the great traditionalist thinks about introducing those to polite society. A clipped three word expression that starts with ‘no’ and ends with ‘thank you’ would just about cover it. A nice watercolour is probably much more up her alley.
Which is why Dorret’s decision to take Emin’s unmade bed as her starting point for the Show Stopper Challenge was such a startling move. Behind Mary’s understated judgement that ‘to choose something that’s untidy to start with doesn’t give us a good impression when we actually first look at it’ we glimpsed a whole hinterland of bewilderment as to why on earth anyone would be inspired by an object so…distasteful.
And yet for all its embarrassing lumpiness, amateurishness and uncooked centre (for which assorted crimes against baking Dorret was rightly eliminated from the competition), there was a sense in which hers was the boldest entry of the night. Alone amongst the contestants, she took an established work of art, and wrote for it a whole new chapter. (True, Sandy’s effort was indebted to last year’s Blood Swept Lands at the Tower of London, but thankfully – given its aesthetic and gustatory standard – she didn’t try to recreate the entire opus. Dorret did).
In 1998, when Tracey Emin first exhibited her most famous extant work, it’s fair to say that opinion was split (unevenly) between admiration and disgust. By 2014, it had been sold for two-and-a-half million pounds. On Wednesday night, it assumed a new, edible incarnation on mass audience prime-time reality TV. The cultural journey of My Bed – from shocking and controversial piece of Britart, to trophy of the super-rich, to causal reference-point in a twee baking programme on the BBC, is almost as intriguing as the artwork itself. And just as importantly, did Dorret’s homage to Emin shed any new light on the themes that dominated the original?
In one way – no it didn’t. Lacking the detail of the actual installation, it had nothing to say about mental illness, the public and private lives of women, the importance of capturing a moment in one’s life or how individuals are defined by the objects with which they surround themselves. On this level – yeah, it was just bread. But taking the broader view, one of the reasons Dorret did so badly was because she hadn’t practised her bake (compare and contrast with Nadiya’s six dry runs on her magnificent bread-y snake).
We weren’t told why Dorret arrived for Week Three so ill-prepared. But it’s got to be a safe bet that when you add the stress of Bake Off to a work and family life that’s already over-burdened with demands and responsibilities, something has to give. The unmade bed, the unswept floor, the unread bedtime story might be far from the fantasy perfection that is GBBO, but they must be the harsh – but unreported – foundation of many a Show Stopping extravaganza. The less-than-sweet truth is that even the Bake-Off bakers themselves cannot live up to the Bake-Off dream. Bringing that dirty linen into the tent for all to see was never going to win Dorret any prizes. But all power to her for doing it anyway.