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UMM TEEN TIMES : Those Angst- Ridden Years Are the Focus of the 'Teenagers? Teenagers!' Multimedia Exhibit at Fullerton Museum Center

September 16, 1993|ZAN DUBIN | Zan Dubin covers art for The Times Orange County Edition.

Fullerton High School senior Karen Hill had a recent visit from a friend who feared that Hill had fallen in with a questionable crowd.

"She pulled me aside," Hill recalled, "and said, 'Are you OK? I heard you were hanging out with druggies now.' I was like, 'There's nothing wrong with me! I'm very against drugs.'

"She was trying to help me like I was some troubled misfit. I told her that's not the way it is, that I'm really happy the way I am."

Hill thinks her friend got wrong ideas about her from a student at Hill's school who was judging Hill by the all-black outfits, clunky boots and trench coat she likes to wear.

Stereotyping, pigeonholing, labeling, that kind of thing hurts, Hill says. But it's practically epidemic among her peers, said the 16-year-old, who zeros in on the issue in "Nobodies," a four-minute video she produced for an exhibition about the Angst -ridden teen years opening Friday at Fullerton Museum Center.

"Nobody at school knows that I'm a straight-A student and want to go to a four-year UC college or that I work at a library," Hill said in a recent phone interview from her home. "They don't care. They care about whether you're wearing the kind of jeans you should be wearing." Hill is one of several Orange and Los Angeles County teens to write, shoot and edit videos for the Fullerton exhibit, "Teenagers? Teenagers!," through a youth video program at the Long Beach Museum of Art or at their school.

Their works, exploring such additional themes as friendship and teen interests, are one facet of the multimedia show that addresses the transitional teen years "from both an adult and teen-age perspective, by looking at the inner and outer influences that teens try to balance as they develop their own sense of self," according to center curator Lynn La Bate.

Drugs, gangs, teen pregnancy, AIDS--today's teens face baffling, unprecedented challenges, La Bate said. Yet they are "a segment of our society who don't seem to have equal representation.

"My hope" with the exhibit, La Bate said, "is to foster dialogue: To help adults understand their own kids better, and to move teens to a discussion and perhaps to see their peers in a different light."

Drawing more teens to the museum center is another goal. The institution's weekly student tours focus on elementary grades, but La Bate plans to invite junior high and high school classes to visit before the exhibit closes Nov. 11.

Completing the show are portraits of teens in their bedrooms by Boston photographer Denise Marcotte, an installation tackling the controversial issue of graffiti--both graffiti art and tagging--by L.A. artist Elena Mary Siff, and video, audio and photographic works by Ilene Segalove, also of L.A.

Segalove, 42, endured adolescence in an arguably more innocent era than do today's teens. The AIDS pandemic hadn't broken out, and families gathered 'round the tube to ingest TV dinners, as comforting as the country's collective certainty that America would ace the Cold War.

Still, the essential concepts of her 1987 autobiographical video, "My Puberty," are strikingly similar to Hill's, although Segalove's wry exposition has the element of hindsight. "My Puberty" is about the artist's emotionally scarring, obsessive concern over her physical appearance as she approaches womanhood, and the frequently blurry boundary between perception and reality, a common theme in Segalove's work.

"I always thought that people should look at me from a three-quarter view because I didn't look good (when seen) straight on," she quipped in a phone interview from her Venice home, adding seriously: "What people see is obviously what they think is real, and I don't think we ever grow out of that."

"My Puberty" is "a story about a boy I have a crush on who tells me I have a mustache, and I go around wondering if I have one."

Teens' bedrooms are "havens" safe from judgmental eyes, where teens feel comfortable expressing their true selves, photographer Marcotte said. They are also places where signs of "the brink of that change into adulthood," such as dolls cohabiting with posters of rebellious punk rockers, can be glimpsed.

Among Marcotte's color portraits of Boston-area high schoolers, most taken in the late 1980s, are shots of a young mother and baby seated on a bed, a boy with dyed white-blond hair and eye makeup sitting beside his self-portrait, and a girl who has decorated her room with photos of Madonna and Michael Jackson.

While photographing the teens, Marcotte came to view them as a lot like artists.

"I think that they are struggling to figure out how to fit in," she said, "and as artists we're constantly trying to figure out how we fit into this society. Also, teens are sort of tormented, as artists are.

"Many people look at the photographs and say (the teens) look scary or sad or angry. I don't see that at all. I see them as these beautiful, wonderful young kids in a bit of an identity crisis."

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