Travelling through London’s 26 rooms in Teenage bedrooms exhibition

Twenty-six teenagers from London contributed to the exhibition that explores the significance of contemporary teenage bedrooms. A hideaway, a temple of musing, a place where many emotions are kept between the four walls – although very different, the rooms which are a part of the exhibition have some similarities, carefully analysed by the curators of Teenage bedrooms exhibition in Geffrye Museum in Hoxton.

teenage bedrooms exhibition
Bedroom belonging to Flo, aged 18, East London.Photograph by Kyna Gourley as part of PhD research by Carey Newson

There is an Eighties punk song in Polish that goes, “this piece of the floor is mine, so don’t tell me what to do, you all” – and even if it’s unknown for the wider audience, it is incredibly relevant to the exhibition that Geffrye Museum displays until March 2017. Teenagers want to make their space personal, to showcase their personality and make it reflect who they are – and the exhibition, is guest curated by Carey Newson, a doctoral researcher from the Centre for Studies of Home, reminds the audience that these rooms are places with lives of their own, evolving with the owners.

The stories of the interviewees are presented by a mixture of photos, quotes, objects, and an installation representing a teenager’s bedroom. With friendships, challenges, identities and memories channelled onto the display, customising a space becomes another way of expression. As one of the participants admitted, it’s a “house inside of a house”: a space to be alone, decorated and changed to the heart’s content. Even if the noticeable differences define the personality of the owner of each room, and highlight the influences from the outside world that the teenagers allow into their space, they don’t cut off the past sharply: each one of them is also a collection of childhood memories that link back to the family history. And despite the Internet and social media that consume their attention, they often find themselves enchanted in more traditional activities showcased by items in their rooms, such as listening to music on vinyl – or having a handwritten diary.

Teenage bedrooms compares the differences between generations, too: the parents of the interviewees have also spoken about the differences between their bedrooms and the rooms of their children. For instance, the rapid growth of technology is the phenomenon their kids grew up with – so it doesn’t surprise that a laptop or a mobile can be spotted somewhere in their room. They recall the times when they had to run to the phone in the hall rather than chat on social media – as opposed to communicating from the comfort and intimacy of the own.

“There was a good deal of discussion of the effects of Internet access in redefining teenage space. For the present generation, mobiles and laptops made bedrooms a more attractive place to escape to. One mother commented that when she was a teenager she was either out with her mates or alone in her room, whereas for her daughter there wasn’t the same clear distinction, since she went to her room to talk to friends on social media,” said Carey Newson, the curator of Teenage bedrooms.  “Meanwhile, teenagers talking about what it was like in their rooms described themselves switching between different media and in and out of different conversations. The teenage bedroom appeared a more intrinsically social space, and perhaps a less moody one than it had been for their parents. Some mothers felt that their teenage daughters had a more overt approach to self-presentation – with cosmetics, make-up and clothes kept out rather than away, and there was concern about pressures around appearance from social media.”

Teenage bedrooms. Geffrye Museum, Kingsland Road, Hoxton, London E2 8EA. Free entry. Open until March 2017, Tuesday – Sunday & Bank Holiday Mondays 10am – 5pm.  

Kasia Kwasniewska

Editor in Chief

Passionate about far too many things. Loves reading, watching films, eyeing (and producing) good design, listening to music and stuffing her face with chocolate on a daily basis. Cooks from time to time, and drinks far too much coffee to be a normal human being .

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