Over the months of December, January and February I found myself in a bit of a rut. A trend defined by weeks of unmotivated downtime for me is watching a lot of teen films and rom coms. In this period I began analysing the strict structure that these films follow, especially I was concerned by the portrayal of the ‘happy ending’ and the sugary sweet manipulation of the sound tracks.
I started filming different aspects of my life on a new hand held ‘flip’ camera, including moments on my own, with my family and with friends. Its discrepancy and the fact it cannot immediately connect to the Internet meant that many people did not act as self-consciously in front of it as they would do with a phone recording. At parties I started asking other people to film with it, one of the most successful out comes of this is footage from a new years party. Watching this footage back, I started thinking about the ‘state’ of my generation, as shown in the video it seems that many young people are depressed and anxious, which reflects what I have read in Franco ‘Bifo’ Beradi’s ‘After the Future’. Thinking about the teen films I had been watching really began to concern me in this regard as I realised that many young people, myself included, have grown up with the expectation of significant resolution to everyday banality. This short video set within the transient moment of change that is the new years party, depicts a specific western view of ‘millennial adolescents. Asked whether they are looking forward to the coming year the youths, fuelled by intoxication, speak somewhat bleakly about their future and past despite living and studying comfortably and some merely shrug.
I wanted a way of comparing these experiences of modern adolescence that I have experienced to those I have seen depicted in films. Having been inspired by Lenka Clayton previously with alphabetising Zoella’s vlog ‘what’s in my handbag? 2016’ I decided to do the same to songs that have been used in teen film. I was especially interested in lyrics that expressed the resolution of ‘dreams’ in some way, as I think that this is one of the most interesting yet concerning things that teen films do. A good example of this is Hilary Duff’s performance of ‘This is what dreams are made of’ at the end of the Lizzie McGuire movie. Hilary/Lizzie performs this in the Colosseum Amphitheatre in Rome after being mistaken for a famous pop singer on a school trip. In the 4 minute duration of the song Lizzie manages to conquer the ‘bad guy’, return credit to the ‘good girl’ and perform to tens of thousands of people including all of her fellow students and parents. The reason that this concerns me so much is that I used to perform similar scenarios in my bedroom mirror as a child, and watching this scene now will still reward me with a sense of awe and goose bumps.
Alphabetising these lyrics meant writing them out repeatedly and after doing several different songs, including work by the Jonas Brothers, High school musical cast and Britney Spears, I began noticing that just before the words were totally alphabetised they made strangely poetic stanzas. For example;
‘Do dreams make different
Make make dreams
Make dreams do’
Which was found within High school musicals extraordinarily positive final song from the first film of the trilogy; ‘We’re all in this together’.
It was at this time I began looking at Mishka Henner’s work and was particularly struck by his series ‘Bliss’ that consists of awkwardly realistic stills taken of news reporters. I began taking stills of my own videos as I found that their low resolution quality often turned the banal pieces of footage into something much more visually engaging.
I felt that this reflected what is happening a lot on the Internet already where social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook encourage us to present our lives fictitiously with photos that tend to reflect how we wish our lives were rather than how they actually are. I then got an opportunity to have a zine published by Black Wave Press and felt that this would be the best way to experiment with the comparison of my own experience of adolescence and the teen film depictions of this. Here I displayed some of my John Giorno inspired found poems next to stills taken from my own videos amongst glitter and kitsch in a zine titled ‘Happy Song.’ The zine begins and ends with poems that specifically deal with dreams, starting with an adolescent covered in glitter holding the camera towards her face and ending with a newly formed family having their photo taken on a smart phone in front of a Christmas tree.
After some feedback in tutorials on this zine I decided to make a video counterpart, I first experimented with using my own voice to read out the poems but eventually decided it was much more effective to use a robotic voice. I made as many experiments with this technique as I had carefully selected poems, after showing them back to back in a crit, I quickly realised that these were all separate sketches and need to be displayed that way, if at all.
My most recent piece of work with this footage was ‘could cos dreams – a happy song’ which consists of layered footage zooming towards the screen in the way in which film classifications were announced on VHS tapes. After tutorials with Matthew Weir, Andy Parsons and Lilah Fowler, I realised it was really important to get these works into a more physical state (beyond Youtube) and so I showed this particular piece in the Linear Gallery. I turned the volume up to maximum and made it so that the footage would only appear once a minute. It was this silence contrasted with the loud repetition of ‘dreams’ and the happy family which meant this experimental work often confronted passers-by with confusion.
I have been working a lot with this particular piece of footage of the newly formed family. I believe this is because I am really interested in the education of children and the way in which institutions support this learning at such a crucial age. Being staged in front of a Christmas tree, I think this footage also explores the conventional dreams of the happy family and happily ever after often expressed in teen films. The smart phone in the foreground also highlights our current place in technological history where everything we do is documented and momentarily distributed, creating a tension in the ‘here and now’.
I realise that my work over the course of this year has become a lot less ambitious in terms of its scale but I feel that this has been necessary in order for me to spend time working on the breadth of my ideas and influences. I don’t quite feel that this is in any way a finished or resolved piece of work as it is still very quiet and ambiguous but I believe it is a starting point for something much more ambitious.