On capturing portraits of a generation by Gen Z’s Salvatore Calcagno, Antoine Neufmars and Emilie Flamant

In filming their documentary on today’s Generation Z, the Brussels-based creative trio Salvatore Calcagno (1990), Antoine Neufmars (1984) and Emilie Flamant (1990) travelled throughout Europe to explore a much maligned and unexpectedly resilient group of youngsters. Questioning what it means to be a youth in the digital age and how political consciousness is shaping their future choices, the result is the interdisciplinary documentary event Gen Z that reconciles Millenials in all their complexities; featuring a stage performance, an exhibition and a public intervention on the streets of Brussels. The second round starts Tuesday, 27th February – don’t miss out on your last chance to catch the performance at Les Tanneurs before it travels on to other European cities.

All visuals provided by Gen Z and Les Tanneurs (c).

We all live in a time when an avalanche of questions concerning the future are constantly brought up, making up a huge part of our daily reality. In what direction are we evolving as a society? What do nationalism, borders and the role of the European Union as a political structure actually entail today? With GEN Z, our documentary feature on Millennials, or Generation Z, we wanted to directly address the flag-wavers of the future and, by doing so, create a transboundary portrait of youth in this day and age. Over the course of 18 months, we travelled to nine different cities in Europe, from La Louvière to a small Estonian town, in search for signs of a “European identity”. Throughout our research, we were determined to radically disable our own assumptions and perspectives when facing youngsters, whether during our workshop interactions or street encounters, in order to catch glimpses of their ideas and personalities. What was both striking and thrilling to experience was the almost extreme level of consciousness this generation holds. Even though we ourselves are barely in our late-20s, the three of us have often discussed never having been so actively engaged and aware of the events unfolding around us during our teenage years. Time and time again, we found ourselves completely blown away by Generation Z’s manifestly different spirit

GEN Z is not so much a stage performance as it is a cultural event, outside of the black box and on the streets.

Then again, what unites them is about as much as what divides this generation. Some we met were worried about their national safety in the face of the recent wave of attacks and were looking to join their military’s special forces. Others were vegan activists, pleading for a way out of consumerism. Another 14-year-old girl was closely involved with her local LGTBQI community and was in the process of gender transition herself. No longer backed by the certainties that used to come with university degrees and the general status quo, hope for the best and expect the worst appeared to be a recurring creed. Whatever their stories were, we encountered activism, determination and a repeated tendency towards a reinforcement of their bodies through make-up, sports and clothes – both on- as well as offline. To be honest, as visual artists, it’s an absolute delight to take a deeper look at how this youth curates itself, how it’s developed an entirely unique system of codes and aesthetic references in its self-presentation to the outside world. Unobstructed by a desired outcome, much of the content they share online through videos or texts has an unexpectedly high artistic value. It quickly became clear to us that these kids have a much more hybrid take on art – not in the least because of the many different platforms of information they’re exposed to. Theatre is not these youngsters’ natural habitat, and certainly not the only space where their words can resonate. We felt that if we were to do this generation justice and reflect on it properly, we too had to cross borders. That’s why GEN Z is not so much a stage performance as it is a cultural event, outside of the black box and on the streets. And, in a strange way, we were able to find our own answers transcribed in this project. It took us a while to see the parallels, but the chips are beginning to fall into place.

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