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Reconnect the Dots – GDFB

Today sees the start of the Graphic Design Festival Breda, the fourth edition of the biennial that aims to present the brightest new graphic design talents within a socially-active framework. 

By Cassandra Pizzey / 17-04-2014

This year’s theme is Reconnect the Dots and sees some of Breda’s lesser-known areas linked to one another through graphic design. The historical centre of the city forms the backdrop for the festival, not only the MOTI museum but the streets themselves are used to present work by new talents and young designers. 

The Graphic Design Festival Breda pulls in a wide audience of graphic-design lovers as well as unsuspecting visitors to the city. By taking the designs out of the museum it is possible to show work by lesser-known artists, to show how the technologic aspect of graphic design is evolving  – through social media for instance –, and to place graphic design within a social framework. 

Our tour of the festival starts at Kasteelplein, where a series of enormous billboards can be viewed. The project is named Research and focusses on visual journalism, popularised in the Netherlands by newspapers such as NRC Next and new-media news platforms such as De Correspondent. Designers in the field of data visualisation and data journalism teamed up with journalists to create infographics based on current affairs.  

Laid out are some confronting facts and figures. Work by CLEVERºFRANKE (Thomas Clever, Jonas Groot Kormelink, Vincent Meertens) and journalist Dimitri Tokmetzis  (De Correspondent) shows what happens when you send out an email. Not only does is travel the globe but it is also picked up (and read) by a number of data centres. The question that arises is “Which companies and security agencies could end up with a copy of your private content?”. 

Another rather daunting billboard is visualised by Walewijn den Boer and journalist Mensje Melchior (New Scientist) and shows an insight into our food production. Genetic modification has become part of our five a day but what really goes into a plate of fish fingers or bowl of tomato soup? The project illustrates a system which is usually non transparent. 

Just around the corner from Kasteelplein lies the Museum of the Image or MOTI for short. As part of the GDFB, a special exhibition named Revolt has been curated by Sven Ehmann and Dennis Elbers, and shows the active roles graphic design can take on within society. Divided into three main themes (Revolt, Review and Refresh), the exhibition takes us through diverse projects that aim to spread awareness, confront the audience or inspire them to take action. 

Meant as a modular system that can travel, the exhibition design is by TIESENCO and Staynice. Underneath each project is a series of tag words explaining the context of the project. Included are works by designers taking up their own social responsibility, such as Christopher Hope & Kenji Nakayama. In the project entitled Signs for the Homeless (2012) the duo exchanged the poorly-designed signs of the homeless for their hand-painted reinterpretations. By giving back not money but something tangible, they raised awareness for the deeper-rooted social problems of homelessness. 

A number of projects in the exhibition focus on troubled countries and how to get people to actively participate in the discussion. Just a few examples are the colourful Tumblr. site Putin a Rainbow by Yuri Veerman & Brigiet van den Berg (2013) or Israeli designers The Peace Factory who created a poster template with the text 'Israel loves Iran'. These projects show how social media can play an active and positive role in spreading the message. Others map out the situation in conflicted areas such as Ruben Pater’s 2013, Drone Survival Guide, a counter reaction to drone spy planes. The reflective poster shows different types of drones used by governments to spy on civilians, and how to interfere with their sensors.

It is clear from these two exhibitions that the Graphic Design Festival Breda has succeeded not only in showing visually-strong designs by a new wave of graphic designers but also shows how graphic design can continue to actively participate in the social debate.