Justin Bieber on the wall and keep out signs in new teenage bedroom display
- Credit: Archant
James Sutton talks to Carey Newson, curator of a new Geffrye Museum display exploring the often secretive arena of teen bedrooms
Obscure band posters on the walls, dirty laundry on the floor, and God only knows what that is in the corner – teenagers’ bedrooms aren’t always the most inviting spaces.
Of course, that’s a crude stereotype, but from the messiest pit to the brightest and tidiest of wannabe boudoirs, there’s a perfectly natural reason why teenagers’ bedrooms are almost never impersonal hotel-chic in style.
After all, isn’t a bedroom – especially for a teenager – an intensely personal fiefdom intended for no one but you?
Well, yes and no, says Carey Newson, who curates the new display at the Geffrye Museum of the Home in Hoxton.
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She’ll be throwing open the door to teenagers’ bedrooms, and looking beyond the adolescent “impulse towards black paint in a sort of Adrian Mole way”.
Interviews, photographs, and an installation piece will help visitors to explore the modern reality of these complex spaces.
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“Our whole way of thinking about teenage bedrooms from the 60s onwards has been as this sort of moody, solitary retreat, but I think that’s changed,” she argues.
The driving force behind it, Newson claims, has been the internet; now, home is where the Wifi connects automatically.
“Bedrooms are much more social spaces now, so that when you escape to your room, you’re actually escaping to talk to your friends.
“I think they’re still very reflective spaces, but it’s subtly different really, because it’s not quite as solitary.”
And that’s not to say that teenagers’ bedrooms are no-go areas for parents.
“Parents are quite involved, even facilitating teenagers in making it their own space. Privacy is important, but at the same time they are quite involved in helping that along,” Newson explains.
Some parents opt for a different approach, however: Passive resistance.
Newson recounts how one mother had conveniently never quite got around to buying a certain black window blind for her teenage daughter’s room.
Perhaps, then, a teenager’s bedroom isn’t a straightforward outpouring of personality onto the walls, but the product of an intricate process that shapes personality in relation to others as much as reflecting it.
“It’s a conscious but a not entirely conscious process. Or it’s perhaps better to say that it’s conscious but not necessarily verbalised,” Newson adds.
This is where her research steps in. Forming part of her PhD, the work behind Newson’s exhibition involved taking pictures of teenagers’ bedrooms across North and East London with photographer Kyna Gourley, and sitting down with the teenagers and their parents to discuss the thought-processes that informed the décor choices.
“If you go and talk to a teenager and ask ‘Well, tell me about your life’, then it’s a difficult thing for them to know where to start. How do we talk about these things? It’s a bit abstract – this provides a kind of lens.
“The way that you arrange the things in your room or put things up on a shelf, you don’t necessarily do it in a conscious way, you haven’t necessarily thought ‘I’m putting this up for this reason…’ And that’s true of all of us, not just teenagers. But when you start to discuss it with somebody, different themes tumble out, and it’s fascinating.”
That process wasn’t just revelatory for Newson, but could be for the teenagers themselves too.
“Occasionally they would discover things that they just hadn’t quite realised. Sometimes by the time they got to the end of discussing it they found that they’d suddenly realised something, like: ‘Oh, I’m really interested in travel!’”
Newson herself serves as a useful case in point. Her own bedroom as a teenager was “a bit hippy – I had [posters of] girls in long flowing dresses on bicycles.”
She’s quick to remind us that “this is the 1970s we’re talking about!” She recalls a sudden desire to cover her walls with newspapers: “My Mum really didn’t like it. She didn’t try to talk me out of it though. The funny thing is that in my first job I worked on the local paper, so if there is a sense that we sort of work things out about ourselves, where we want to go, what we want to do, on our bedroom walls, then that was a sort of rather unsubtle version of that.”
One question remains, then: why am I not in a rock band?
Teenage bedrooms: ‘like a house inside of a house’ is on display until March next year at the Geffrye Museum of the Home in Kingsland Road, Hoxton. geffrye-museum.org.uk