Were you to have permission to create any on-screen bedroom, what would it be? Maybe the angsty asylum of “10 Things I Hate About You”’s Kat Stratford or perhaps Iron Man’s palatial, computer-controlled chamber or Marie Antoinette’s well-appointed, cake-filled room. Or...well, there are plenty of worthy options. But for artist and filmmaker Sarah Keenlyside, who thought to recreate a bedroom for Toronto’s immersive “Come up to My Room” exhibit this past January, the answer was simple: the eclectic, tech-filled, 80’s-ized home base of lovable, life-absorbing truant Ferris Bueller.
“There was no rationale to it,” says Kennlyside. “It was instinct.”
Like many, Keenlyside adored “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and the particular brand of laid back rebellion it represented. She spent months tracking down props and re-creating posters, ensuring everything was as authentic as possible. Her dedication paid off: Attendees were so taken by the faithful recreation that the folks behind Ferris Fest, an annual celebration of the film’s birthday organized by a troupe of dedicated Bueller-ites (Ferris Fiends?), asked her to do the same for their 30th anniversary celebration.
Taking place the weekend of May 20th in Chicago, Ferris Fest include various Bueller-themed events including a live recreation of the film’s “Twist and Shout” parade sequence (!) and a tour of Keenlyside’s project. At the latter, fans can see every poster and prank tool. You can hear Bueller’s snore track through his insanely expensive, and 100-percent-accurate, stereo equipment and see the original IBM computer he used to hack into school and erase his sick days.
We got a hold of Keenlyside moments after setting up her display in Chicago to chat about how her project, the secret meaning of Ferris' room and why Pepsi collectors really need to step it up.
What was the inspiration behind this entire project?
Well quite honestly, just cause. I’m really good friends with an artist who’s always said to me, the reason that he was successful was because every time he had an idea—any idea—he’d just do it. In the execution you learn if it’s a bad idea or good idea and I went by that advice. That was my attitude and I was like why not? And it turned into a phenomenon.
Do you remember your first impressions of the room when watching the film?
I would say there’s a lot of teen bedrooms from 80s movies that I could more identity with as a girl, like Andie from “Pretty in Pink”. I would love to be in that bedroom, but that’s more of a connection to me and it doesn’t feel as universal as Ferris’ room. His room definitely stuck with me as the kind I wanted to hang out in and have. When I saw the movie, I was struck with the posters, and stuff he had in there. It looked so cool to me. And there were all these bands I never heard of. I remember growing up and putting posters in my bedroom and it very well could have been because of Ferris, because that’s what a cool kids bedroom looks like.
As an adult, looking back, and the more I delved into it, I realized the room is more like a portal into the digital age because of the technology he had. He had internet before I knew what internet was. I remember seeing [when he changes his sick days] and thinking, “Is that possible? How does he have that? How does that work?” It was a moment of looking into the future very innocently. It was the very moment those things were starting to enter our lives.
There’s so much stuff in that room. What was the weirdest thing you discovered when recreating it?
It’s not a thing, but there’s a coded theme in the room. There was a very strong cowboy theme in the room, which to me, is symbolic of Ferris being a child turning into a man. There’s a Henry V aspect to it. He’s sowing his oats before taking on the responsibility that’s coming in his life.
There are these little symbols of boyhood: most of the lamps are parchment with rawhide-sown shades and they have horseshoes as a base. The seams have country life painted on them — a little cowboy nod. Those little nods to boyhood things were present and it took a lot of digging to get to that and maybe you notice or don’t notice the symbolic things and that was a weird one.
His bed always looked comfortable to us. How did you go about Ferris’s cozy blankets?
That was another thing: I was looking at his sheets and I thought it was just a shitty fleece blanket with pinks and purple [designs] and I thought it was an arbitrary choice to have that color palette on his bed. But then I stared at it and I stared at it, and I realized it looked native, sort of Navajo maybe. And I realized it was a 1940s camp blanket – like a Pendleton blanket. Which are very expensive. And again, another cowboy nod.
What’s been one of the more difficult items to find?
His computer is an IBM 5160, and me wanting to be a purist and get things right, I searched high and low and I thought there’s got to be someone who collects this shit. So I found a museum in Branford, Ontario, the home of Wayne Gretzky, where this guy has an enormous collection of old computers. I wrote him out of the blue, and his name is Syd Bolton. He said he had the computer and programmed it to have the “Ferris” report card absent days countdown. It was pretty cool.
Good thing everyone loves the 80s. Is there anything you couldn’t match?
I went crazy finding everything. The only thing that’s not actual old things are the posters. I had to recreate them. I bought all the albums and had a graphic designer meticulously recreate all of them. Also, Ferris had some Pepsi cans around his room, so I tried very hard to find vintage Pepsi cans. But people don’t collect Pepsi cans like how they collect Coke paraphernalia.
I drove an hour outside of Toronto to meet a guy who had old Pepsi cans, but when I got there he said the cans were from the 90s and not the 80s after he looked them up on Google. I bought them anyway. People think they’re from the 80s, but really it’s the one item that shows my inability to get old Pepsi cans.
It must’ve been tough to transport the exhibit from Toronto to Chicago for Ferris Fest?
Well, I drove here. From Toronto. It was a ten-hour drive — two hours at the border. The mannequin could only fit between the passenger and driver seat. He was literally between us the entire way. I’m surprised how little they dug into it. I had so much prepared: letters from Ferris Fest, appraisals, print outs of press I’ve had, contracts and I didn’t need any of it. The Canadians asked me about, but somehow the Americans didn’t. I know I’ll need it on my way home.
Would you want Ferris Bueller to walk through the room?
It would be cool. Maybe it would feel awkward because he might think, “Why did you do this?” (Laughs). I love the film, but this wasn’t done as fan art, it was done as art. This was a process based art project and the measure of success for me is how it makes people feel. But it’s not about the stars. I’m excited those people have been in the room, whether it’s Matthew Broderick or a P.A. on the film. I’m excited to meet those people, and their presence walking through the room changes the presence of the room. But I’m not a fan girl. It’s really about someone telling me I nailed it.