A nostalgic Generation Z…?

Can our newest generation, Generation Z, feel nostalgia? The answer is a firm yes, according to Marc Knip of Groningen’s Noorderlicht photography gallery. What’s more, it highlights the pressures facing young people, and our lack of knowledge of how to work with them and respond to the issues they face.

The recent Noorderlicht International Photo Festival (18 July – 20 September 2020) focussed on the reality of the lives of Generation Z, those born roughly between 1995 and 2010. The exhibition Loading…loop (the garden of nostalgia) is a spin-off, and a unique learning opportunity for the lens-based artists involved, as well as the gallery. Let’s speak to Marc.

What was your goal and what did you do?

The aim was to connect a group of passionate young people who are engaged in lens-based art with Noorderlicht for a longer period of time as a sounding board and ultimately, as autonomous programmers.

We approached different young people on the street and on social media to find the people who might be interested but are not organised (as a group), in school or education. We brought together an initial group of 30 for a brainstorm. They were from all walks of life, all cultural scenes. So we just sort of talked to each other, introduced our worlds to each other. After some more brainstorms, they decided it would be a camping trip for those that were still feeling like ‘I want to go for it’.

They went camping for a weekend on the grounds of Museum Belvédère, where the Noorderlicht festival took place this year. From there, they developed work and a show.

How does this link with the rest of Nooderlicht's work, like the annual festival?

This year’s festival, curated by Robert Jan Verhagen, was about Generation Z. Of course, we talked about how to get this generation to visit our exhibition. Promotion for the festival wouldn’t be enough: we had to find a way to connect, a long-term plan that would connect them to our studio and our festival.

Every festival, we have the young curator programme, who make an independent show in the festival. The two curators from this year, Sydney Rahimtoola and Hanane El Ouardani, could connect to this generation, and participated in the first brainstorm.

This year, we also did an open student call for photography students worldwide, for one picture that showed how they experienced lock-down this year. We had 144 submissions from over 30 countries: the exhibition was so beautiful. That’s another way we try to reach the younger audience.

Noorderlicht YOUNG - Alex Murphy (© Marc Knip)
Noorderlicht YOUNG - Job de Lange (© Marc Knip)

Let’s talk about nostalgia. I was a little bemused by the title, and asked myself: what does Generation Z have to share about nostalgia?

They live in an online world that’s constantly begging for their attention. There are too many impulses, distractions. They have a load on their shoulders. We might look back or reflect on our lives during a midlife crisis, but they are already doing this, looking back to a time when life was easy, for example, to when they were three sitting on the sofa, watching TV and drinking a cola.

Noorderlicht YOUNG - Martijn Aleman (© Marc Knip)
Noorderlicht YOUNG - Karyna Sheikh (© Marc Knip)
The six still young artists often long for their youth, for a time when not everything had to be meaningful. With an installation of photo and video, they depict their longing for the carefree bubble of the past by creating a new bubble, a garden of nostalgia.

What have you learned about the creatives of Generation Z?

I was surprised they had so much on their minds already. These young adults have fewer expectations of a stable future than their parents, something they hold previous generations accountable for. Plus, they face a world with a lot of problems. After working with them, I have a lot more understanding and insight. It wasn’t always easy, this generation has completely different ways of communicating than I have. Our group was struggling with deadlines or showing up at meetings. On the other hand, we were advised not to put pressure on them, leave them free, but in the process they signalled they needed more guidance. This is a learning process for us, too.

What has been the biggest success of the collaboration?

The biggest success is that we connected to a bunch of people we didn’t see often enough in our exhibition spaces. We had a festival about them, it was so great to connect with them as well. We talked to them, worked with them, and got feedback from them. It gave us confirmation that we are on the right path.

Noorderlicht YOUNG - Nina Matulessy (© Marc Knip)
Noorderlicht YOUNG - Stefan Nuiver (© Marc Knip)

From a brainstorm to an exhibition in three months. What happens next?

We want them to stay with us as independent youth critics, who will be a sounding board on our programme. I hope the group will develop into a creative collective, that will develop their own shows, be controversial and inspire debates. At the end of two years, we hope that they can have their own festival. We’ll facilitate, they’ll be artistically free. This is the start of that process.

We have to reach out. There’s so much going on, identity, gender politics. I didn’t have these questions when I was young, but they’re relevant, and these young people can critique what we’re doing. It’s not always nice, but it’s good for us.

Loading…loop (the garden of nostalgia) will be showing at Noorderlicht on 6 October until 18 October 2020. 

All photos used with the permission of Noorderlicht. First gallery images copyright of the artists. Images of the artists used in the article copyright of Marc Knip. Featured thumbnail image to the article is an image by Martijn Aleman, entitled Stuck in the Past.


About the artists
Martijn Aleman (Netherlands, 2000) // Photo- and videographer, student communication and multimedia design. He tries to translate his personal feelings and perspectives into visual art.

Karyna Sheikh (Ukraine, 2001) // Third year Minerva Art Academy. Her work is strongly connected to digital culture and visuals. She is fascinated by colour and cyberpunk-futuristic concepts.

Nina Matulessy (Netherlands, 2002) // Still in high school, she has been engaged in photography for a few years.

Alex Murphy (Ireland, 1998) // Third year Minerva Art Academy. His concepts come from film, photography, sculpture and interactive spatial design.

Stefan Nuiver (Netherlands, 1999) // Young but experienced filmmaker.

Job de Lange (Netherlands, 1995) // Third year Minerva Art Academy. A dreamer, who likes to think outside the box and tries to put different perspectives in an image.