‘Like a house inside of a house’
Entering a world of low-quality, home printed photos and posters on the walls; dirty laundry on the floor; bits and bobs of something unidentifiable scattered all over the place. A mother’s nightmare or a metaphor for something deeper?
In a partnership with Queen Mary University of London, the Geffrye Museum is currently displaying an exhibition curated by Carey Newson – a researcher at the Centre for Studies of Home – , who spent a year (2013-14) interviewing teenagers and their parents for her doctoral research into the material culture of the teenage bedroom, in collaboration with the photographer Kyna Gourley.
In this curious and prominent exhibition, we are welcomed inside the bedrooms of 26 teenagers in London and able to explore, through interviews, photographs, a collection of objects and an installation piece, the modern reality of the meaning and significance of these complex spaces.
“Teenagers are here for such a short time; they’re changing constantly, putting up new things on their walls, and before you know it, they’ve gone,” says Newson. “These rooms are very transitory places. What they’re putting up in their rooms reflects what’s going on in their lives.”
In fact, most teenagers see their rooms as a reflection of themselves, a part of their identity and individuality. These are unique spaces where they can gather their thoughts, express their feelings and display their memories – openly, without the fear of being judged.
They are a sort of retreat, “especially important at times of stress; a place to simmer down or let rip; to shut the door with relief – or slam it in anger.”
“Our whole way of thinking about teenage bedrooms from the 60’s onwards has been as this sort of moody, solitary retreat, but I think that’s changed,” Newson argues. According to her research, while bedrooms are still very propitious to reflection, they’re not quite as solitary. “Home is where the WiFi connects automatically now”, and so while teenagers in the 60’s and 70’s relied on the – rather exposed – family telephone to talk to their friends and conduct their personal life, their children are now able to manage their social affairs from the safety and privacy of their own bedrooms.
Another idea that has been demystified by this research is that of the teenagers’ bedrooms being forbidden areas for parents. Privacy is still important. However, parents – as well as other family members and, obviously, friends – are welcome to get involved in helping them creating their own individual space.
Perhaps, then, a teenager’s bedroom isn’t a clear, candid outburst of their personality onto the walls but rather the product of a sophisticated process that shapes their personality in relation to others as much as reflecting it.
Either way, we cannot argue that these spaces help teenagers expand their cultural interests and broaden their horizons outside their home – for there is no better place to prepare yourself for the world outside than in the safety and comfort of your own bedroom.
Upon visiting this exhibition, I felt engaged. Some of the photographs and objects from the teenagers’ bedrooms reminded me of my own bedroom growing up and I could relate to some extent with the interviews being shown.
In one of the last panels, for instance, the curator presented some of the teenagers’ reasons for having “so much stuff” and I realised these were also some of the excuses for why I hold on to objects in my room that have no current practical utility.“…I honestly couldn’t remember where I got the shells from, but I knew if I collected them I must have wanted to hold on to them. So I think a lot of it was, if I threw this away, it would be a misdeed to my previous self.” (Pearl, 17) “… everything’s got meaning, everything, so it’s just really hard to eradicate meaning.” (Theo, 18)
Being a product of a research study, I found this exhibition to be very interesting and amusing. However, I would not consider it to be an art exhibit. The display is not art, but rather a collection of visuals to illustrate the research and conclusions of the study conducted by Newson. There are a scientifically process and logic behind it, and a concern for making her analysis more appealing.
That being said, ‘Teenage Bedrooms’ is, in my opinion, an accurate representation of the influence and meaning that bedrooms have to teenagers. It successfully portrays how these can play a critical part in social constructs, links to the past, and inspire self-realization and self-expression.
Be prepared to be transported back in time to your own teenage bedroom and ever-changing walls.
- Craig, Z. (2016) Peek Inside Teenagers’ Bedrooms at This New Exhibition. Available at: http://londonist.com/2016/09/teenagers-bedrooms-at-the-geffrye-museum (Accessed: 1st November 2016);
- Davidson, L. (2016) The mess in your teenager’s bedroom? It’s art, apparently. Available at: http://telegraph.co.uk/property/news/the-mess-in-your-teenagers-bedroom-its-art-apparently/ (Accessed: 1st November 2016);
- Sutton, J. (2016) Justin Bieber on the wall and ‘Keep Out’ signs in new teenage bedroom display. Avalaible at: http://islingtongazette.co.uk/ (Accessed: 1st November 2016);
- Teenage Bedrooms: ‘Like a house inside of a house’ (2016) [Exhibition]. Geffrye Museum, London. 4 October 2016 – March 2017.