Week 5: Exhibition Review

Teenage Bedrooms:

‘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.

Georgia's room, aged 15
Georgia’s room, aged 15

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.”

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Flo’s room, aged 18

“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.

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Detail of Emily’s room, aged 17

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.

Bibliography:

  • 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.

A Review on Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’

A couple of years ago I read a book by Franz Kafka called ‘Metamorphosis’. Since then, this book has inspired me in several projects and so I wanted to write a little bit about it for those of you who haven’t – yet – read it.

The ‘Metamorphosis’ – originally Die Verwandlung – is a fantasy novel written by Czech author Franz Kafka. It was written in 1912, two years before the First World War, and some authors point out the agony and pessimism present in Kafka’s words as a reflection of the environment and general feeling lived at the time.

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This is the story of Gregor Samsa, a man who lives with his parents (both unemployed for health reasons) and his little sister, Grete. He sees himself forced to take a job as a bagman in order to financially support his family. One morning, Gregor wakes up to a very unusual situation: overnight, he had turned into a giant god-awful insect with a hard back and several legs.

The book consists of three parts. In the first, we follow Gregor in his process of consciousness of having suffered a metamorphosis and we see how he is being approached by his family. In the second part, we observe the day-by-day of an isolated and rejected Gregor. Finally, in the third and last part, we watch the main character getting weaker, both physically and psychologically.

The ‘Metamorphosis’ is a story that plays as a wake-up call to its readers in regard to the society we live in and the human behaviours which Kafka considers as absurd. Even though this novel was written over 100 years ago, it is still very accurate and pertinent today.

Through this metaphorical narrative, Kafka reflects on social aspects like loneliness/ the feeling of exclusion/ rejection, helplessness, existencial crisis, the absurd of life, the disconnection between body and mind, alienation and the limits of empathy/ sympathy… and criticises the values of the capitalist society which narrows the human being to what they look like and produce.

Regarding my own critical opinion on the novel, this was a book that was difficult to read at first, as Kafka’s way of writing is different from what I am used to (more static and descriptive). However, once I got used to his writing, it became easy to immerse myself in the story. The same detailed description that I hadn’t quite liked at first became what really got me into it and one of the reasons I liked the ‘Metamorphosis’ so much.

There are a few aspects of this narrative I found rather interesting: one is the title – when I first started reading the book, I thought the ‘metamorphosis’ refered merely to the physical and psychological transformation suffered by Gregor; however, I later realised another metamorphosis had occured within the family, regarding the feelings of Gregor’s parents and sister for their son and brother: if at first it was Gregor who supported the family, he was now considered a burden and even though the family had loved him unconditionally, they now hated him for the difficulties he made them go through.

Another peculiarity I was interested in was the fact that, through the entire narrative, Kafka never specified which insect Gregor was and that Gregor himself was never fully aware of his transformation (in the sense that he didn’t quite realised how he had also changed psychologically – to him, he was still the exact same person, only in a different body).

We are never told why and how this metamorphosis occurs. What happens during that night or anything previous to the morning Gregor wakes up and finds out he is an insect is a complete mystery to us readers. This is something that intrigues me. That and the fact that Gregor didn’t seem to be revolted or angry when discovering he had been transformed into an insect; instead, he simply resigns to his new condition.

These aspects, as well as the many topics covered during the course of the narrative, make ‘Metamorphosis’ a book propitious to reflection, something I quite like. This is a story that, while being sad, prompts us to thinking; thus, more than any other book I have read before, it is the reflection that arises from the reading that keeps us interested, more than the narrative itself.

Exhibition: Alice in Wonderland

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As a celebration for 150 years of the publication of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, the British Library has prepared an exhibition exploring how this story has been adapted, appropriated, re-imagined and re-illustrated over the years and how it continues to inspire new generations of artists all over the world.

802e45b2dc4037505a5672193b8d328aAs we take our first steps in the space, we are told the story of Alice through a series of illustrations, each represented by a different artist. A couple of mirrors playing with distortion are added to our journey in an attempt to make it more dynamic, I suppose.

Then, pointing arrows lead us to the back of a wall where we can read Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript and learn about the real Alice and, although it was quite interesting, it didn’t really add much to my knowledge of Alice in Wonderland. The whole exhibition was more about the illustrated Alice and how she has changed over time – from a young brunette in a navy dress to Disney’s blonde pre-teenager with a blue dress, a white apron and a black bow, to the modern goth adaptations. There were also a couple of elements such as clips from a short-film, videogames and an installation, all quite nice.

One thing I really enjoy about Alice in Wonderland is that no one really knows what it is about and, therefore, wonderland can become pretty much EVERYTHING. This tale has generated uncountable movements in almost every possible area – from politics to arts and so on.

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The most exciting part of the exhibition, I would say, was the modern art adaptations stage, where people started imagining wonderland as a place full of magic, bright – or complete absence of – colours, where crazy things happened – like cats becoming invisible and caterpillars smoking pipe. I find it fascinating how, in the same period of time, some people would think of wonderland as a happy place, full of interesting friends, where anything is possible and others would see it as dark, scary place, where – well – everything is possible.

Overall, I think the British Library did capture the history of this tale.
The exhibition was quite informative, well-curated and actually interesting. However, I have to admit I found it a bit disappointing. For something created by the British Library, it was quite small and hidden from the public audience. I was expecting something that would be like entering into wonderland, sliding down the rabbit hole and, sadly, it was nothing like that.

Comix Creatrix: 100 women making comics

The House of Illustration, located right next to Central Saint Martins college, is a very cosy place. Welcoming and lovely, it looks like the home of a female artist in her 20s. It even has those classic cat and dog humour posters all over the entrance hall (which works as a gift shop). It’s the perfect place for an exhibition like Comix Creatrix.

Illustration by Nina Cosford
Illustration by Nina Cosford

The term “comix” is an abbreviation for “underground comix”, which are small press/self-published comic books that challenge the conventional way of producing comics. Whilst “mainstream” publications consider moral themes and publish censored stories, comix depict forbidden contents, including explicit drug use, sexuality and violence.

“Comix Creatrix” promises to change our minds and destroy the “myth” that women do not take place in this artistic movement. Not only it promotes unmentionable social themes in society but also – and mainly – females in this industry, who are “claiming the medium for their own”.

Walking through the exhibition is like entering the world of women.
From everyday life to fantasy, political views to “intimate desires” and sexual harrassment, these women cover all possible subject matters in illustrations.
“Comedy, fantasy and biography are all well represented at Comix Creatrix, but no subject is taboo. Art of protest or with hard hitting social themes will also feature prominently”. (Onanuga, 2016)
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Something else I found interesting about this exhibition was the relevance of time. Women in Comix Creatrix cleary show (often through interesting illustrations strategies) that they too have something to say about the past and the present  but it is in the future that most focus on.
“Women are building worlds in their comics: ultramodern dystopias that serve as warnings. They are envisaging societies and cultures as vital and complex as our own. Their fantasies and futures may seem fanciful, but as allegories they’re often uncomfortably close to the truth”.

Overall, I quite liked the display. “Many people simply choose to believe the persistent, but inaccurate, myth that there are very few female creators in the industry”, says Olivia Ahmad, the co-curator of this exhibition, which seeks to prove otherwise. I may have been one of those people. However, after visiting Comix Creatrix, I feel I’ve been missing out. It definitely presents the female presence in the artistic movement splendidly well and it made me want to go to the nearest library to go through the displayed books.

I strongly suggest everyone to go and see this exhibition at House of Illustration. It is incredibly eye-opening.

Julia Margaret Cameron – Influence and Intimacy

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As a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), the Science Museum is presenting “Influence and Intimacy”, an exhibition of her shots of the Victorian elite.

The display includes portraits of her illustrious relatives (her niece, Julia Jackson, was Virginia Woolf’s mother), friends and acquaintances (Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, William Hunt, etc.) from the Herschel Album (1864) – which she “considered to be her finest work” (Science Museum, 2015) – as well as some rare images and objects such as the late photographs taken in Sri Lanka, her camera lens and some handwritten letters and notes.

According to the information in Higgins’ article (2015), Mrs. Cameron was given her first camera by her daughter when she was 48 years old. She then began experimenting, making studies of biblical representations and scenes from famous plays, never afraid of making mistakes. In fact, Mrs. Cameron “deliberately used unconventional methods when taking her shots, avoiding sharp focus and including technical faults to create more expressive images” (Visit London, 2015), much for the disdain of critics at the time, who would see in photography a way to generate clear, “perfect” images (Sadler, 2015).

Mrs. Cameron had quite a short career and yet, she still became well-known for her innovative and pioneering works which, I believe, probably made her an inspiration for women in the Victorian times.

Regarding the curation and installation of “Influence and Intimacy”, since the moment I took the first steps into the room, it was clear to me that curators Colin Harding and Tim Clark had set up this space as to create a sort of spiral, in which we dive into as we walk further in the exhibition. I believe this is meant to represent our immersion into Mrs. Cameron’s life; a way to make us engage with her work. However, it may not be clear enough that there is a certain direction we are supposed to follow for I watched people walking outwards the spiral – the “wrong way”.

Another view I can add is that the inclusion of handwritten letters is definitely a nice touch. They add a certain intimacy, as we’re dipping in her private life.

Something very clear in Mrs. Cameron’s works is that she loved children. Many of her photographs represent either children or maternal, caring scenes and positions (also related to biblical representations). In my opinion, this may be the result of a need to express her fondness and love as a mother – especially having in mind the strictness of the Victorian morality.

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Another characteristic of this talented artist (which we can distinctly take from her photographs in Sri Lanka) is the fact that she portrayed not only her friends and family but also her servants, workers and local residents. Not many photographers of the Imperial period made portraits of ordinary people, “preferring picturesque landscape and architectural scenes, usually taken from a controlled vantage point” (Clark and Harding, 2015). This makes me believe that Julia Margaret was rather a loving woman, who actually cared and made friendship with people working for her and tried to honour them through her photographs.

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To conclude, from the works seen in “Influence and Intimacy”, I can say there is something in Cameron’s portraits that appeal to me in the same way my favourite photographer’s works do. Although they represent other people rather than herself, they are a reflection of her personality and show how remarkable she was.

Bibliography:

  • Higgins, C. (2015) Julia Margaret Cameron: soft-focus photographer with an iron will. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com (Accessed: 13 November 2015)
  • Khan, T. (2015) America And Victorian London: A Photography Double Header At Science Museum Reviewed. Available at: http://londonist.com (Accessed: 18 November 2015)
  • Sadler, V. (2015) New Ehibition on Julia Margaret Cameron – A Photography Pioneer. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk (Acessed: 16 November 2015)
  • Science Museum (2015) Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy. Available at: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk(Accessed: 12 November 2015)
  • Time Out (2015) Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy. Available at: http://www.timeout.com (Accessed: 12 November 2015)
  • Visit London (2015) Julia Margaret Cameron at Science Museum. Available at: http://www.visitlondon.com (Accessed: 17 November 2015)