Many thanks to
Vicky Charnock and other staff at Tate Liverpool for their help with this research.
The text here (by
David Gauntlett © 2002) is part of the material which, when accompanied
by analysis and discussion of the findings, will form an academic article to be
published in 2003-4.
This study considers
some aspects of children's relationship to media stars and celebrities, by considering
the results of a project in which children created their own artworks connected
to this theme. The art-making activity took place as part of the August 2002 'community'
activities offered by contemporary art gallery Tate Liverpool. Alongside an exhibition
entitled 'Pin-up: Glamour and Celebrity Since the Sixties' (on display from March
2002 - January 2003), the gallery ran a number of activities in an adjacent workshop
room, entitled 'Star Salon'. (Tate Liverpool is the home of the National Collection
of Modern Art in the North of England, and the largest gallery of modern and contemporary
art outside London; website at www.tate.org.uk/liverpool).
This method of
asking young people to make their own creative or media products, accompanied
by observation and discussion of this process, has been used by this researcher
before (see Gauntlett 1997, 1999) to gain some insights into children's responses
to media images and messages. For example, in the project described in Video
Critical (Gauntlett 1997), children aged between 7 and 11 were asked to make
videos, in small groups, about 'the environment'. Close observation of the children's
decision-making processes, and filming, as well as the finished video films themselves,
allowed some insights into the ways in which children had adopted some responses
to the environment - and not others - informed by coverage of this area which
they had seen in children's factual and entertainment media. The method also allowed
the children involved to demonstrate their impressive media literacy, and to generate
their own repudiation of the other kind of research, particularly from the discipline
of psychology, which has traditionally disenfranchised young people and not recognised
their capacities in relation to the mass media. Other research has examined websites
produced about media stars by fans, as a way into understanding how some
people experience elements of popular media within their everyday lives (see Gauntlett,
2002; Pullen, 2000, 2003; Hills, 2002). In related (but different) research, members
of the Glasgow Media Group have asked participants to write their own news headlines
or reports to accompany actual news photographs or headlines which they are given,
or sometimes asked to write scripts to accompany other material (see for example
Kitzinger, 1990, 1993; Philo, 1990, 1996; Miller, 1994). These studies aim to
show how the public have been influenced by (or, at least, have remembered the
discourses of) media coverage of particular topics.
This project focuses
on the activity entitled 'Through the Keyhole', in which visitors to the 'Star
Salon' at Tate Liverpool were invited to imagine, and draw, the insides of celebrities'
homes. This activity was inspired by the work of Dexter Dalwood, who since the
late 1990s has been producing a number of paintings in which he imagines the interiors
of the homes of pop stars, celebrities, and other iconic figures. These works
include Paisley Park (1998), the home of the pop star formerly known as
Prince, Neverland (Michael Jackson's Bedroom) (1999), Bill Gates' Bedroom
(2000), Mao Tse-Tung's Study (2000), Ulrike Meinhof's Bedsit (2000),
Gorbachev's Winter Retreat (2000) and several more (see Dalwood, 2000;
Tate, 2002). The series also includes domestic locations connected with rock star
deaths, such as Kurt Cobain's Greenhouse (2001), Ian Curtis's Bedroom
(2001) and Brian Jones' Swimming Pool (2000). These paintings are emphatically
not based on research about these real (or once-real) locations. Instead,
Dalwood paints these places as we imagine them to be. Of course, the imagination
is his rather than 'ours', but the artist suggests that he is representing
the common public imagination of these iconic spots.
In a 2001 interview,
Dalwood was asked how he became interested in the idea of 'unseen interiors'.
I started painting
from memory; I used to do paintings of things that I'd seen. And then I started
to think about fantasy, and from that I suddenly thought I could do things that
were much more concerned with a collective consciousness, rather than a personal
thing. I wasn't interested in a personal language so much as the collective idea
of something iconic: something you'd heard of but hadn't necessarily got a picture
for in your head. (Eyestorm, 2001).
Greenhouse is a good example of the imaginary nature of these scenes. The
painting features a guitar, lying next to a sun lounger, facing the glass wall
of the eponymous greenhouse, which looks out onto the famous Seattle city skyline
- as we would see it on a postcard, with the famous Space Needle in the middle.
This is not actually the view which Kurt Cobain would have seen from his home,
as Dalwood happily admits:
I have been to
Seattle, actually, and I have driven near where his house is (laughs). And it's
a very different, more secluded area to the one in the painting - it's on a back
bay somewhere. I got that view, the skyline, from a magazine, but I was actually
thinking a little bit of the TV show Frasier. (Ibid).
The point, of course,
is that most of us don't picture Cobain in an actual, realistic picture of his
part of Seattle; instead, we picture his home town as stored in fragments of memory
from movies, magazines and TV shows. To make things even more confusing, although
'Kurt Cobain's greenhouse' is a location known to the public as the place where
the singer's body was found, in fact Cobain didn't really have a greenhouse at
all. His body was found in a room above the garage, which had french windows and
later came to be known as 'the greenhouse' despite not really being one. Dalwood
has therefore created an image which reflects what the public might imagine 'Kurt
Cobain's greenhouse' to be like, whilst having very little connection with reality.
Of course, this is fine, and only reinforces the point that the significance of
these places is in their vibrant life within the public imagination, much more
than in ordinary reality.
Despite being 'hyper-real',
imagined versions of possibly-real places, though, Dalwood's paintings still also
remind us of the mundane realities of everyday living. In the case of Kurt Cobain,
say, we routinely connect the star with a blurred idea of an excessive, crazy,
self-destructive rock'n'roll lifestyle. To see the sun lounger in his greenhouse
- even though these things are imaginary - reminds us that the stars are ordinary
people too. Other paintings in the series offer similar surprises - Bill Gates's
Bedroom, for example, is minimalist and technological, as we might imagine
it, but on the whole we probably don't think about Bill Gates having a bedroom
At Tate Liverpool,
children were similarly encouraged to imagine the homes - and therefore, to an
extent, lifestyles - of celebrities. The instructions for the 'Through the Keyhole'
activity, on a sign fixed to the wall, read as follows:
This game is about
the private person behind the star.
Choose a famous
person from the list below [or visitors were invited to think of one themselves]
and then choose a room in the house from the lucky dip bag.
Imagine what kind
of room your celebrity might own and draw it using pens, pencils, crayons or pastels!
The gallery's Information
Assistants would also typically explain the task to visitors, and offer them the
list of celebrities and the box containing names of rooms on pieces of card (kitchen,
lounge, bedroom, bathroom, attic, study, garage, garden, shed).
from what children put into their artworks will be discussed in a forthcoming
article. Areas discussed include:
- Consumer culture
- Gender issues
- The nature of
- Thinking about
Dalwood, Dexter (2000),
Dexter Dalwood: New Paintings, 12 October - 18 November 2000, London: Gagosian
Eyestorm (2002), 'Two-Minute
Interview: Dexter Dalwood: From the Mind's Eye', The Saatchi Gallery Eyestorm
Collection, http://www.eyestorm.com/saatchi/interview_ dalwood.asp
Gauntlett, David & Hill,
Annette (1999), TV Living: Television, Culture and Everyday Life, London:
Gauntlett, David (1997),
Video Critical: Children, the Environment and Media Power, Luton: John
Hills, Matthew (2002), Fan
Cultures, London: Routledge.
Kitzinger, Jenny (1990)
'Audience Understandings of AIDS Media Messages: A Discussion of Methods', Sociology
of Health and Illness, vol. 12, pp. 319-35.
Kitzinger, Jenny (1993)
'Understanding AIDS: Researching audience perceptions of Acquired Immune Deiciency
Syndrome', in Eldridge, John (ed.) Getting the Message: News, Truth and Power,
Miller, David (1994) Don't
Mention the War, London: Pluto Press.
Philo, Greg (1990) Seeing
and Believing: The influence of television, London: Routledge.
Philo, Greg (ed.) (1996)
Media and Mental Distress, London: Addison Wesley Longman.
Pullen, Kirsten (2000),
'I-Love-Xena.com: Creating Online Fan Communities', in Gauntlett, David, ed.,
Web.Studies: Rewiring Media Studies for the Digital Age, London: Arnold.
Pullen, Kirsten (2002),
'Everybody's Gotta Love Somebody, Sometime: Online Fan Community', in Gauntlett,
David, & Horsley, Ross, eds, Web.Studies: Rewiring Media Studies for the Digital
Age (Second Edition), London: Arnold.
Tate (2002), Remix: Contemporary
Art and Pop, curated by Simon Wallis, London: Tate Publishing.
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