Graphic Matters

interview with Dennis Elbers, founder and curator

Today we meet Dennis Elbers, founder and curator of @Graphicmatters

 

“Visual images are everywhere in our physical and digital world. They determine how we see the world and how we act. We don’t always realise that graphic designers help us by creating order out of chaos, providing clarity in complex matters or speaking to our emotions. They visualise urgent matters so we can understand them quickly. Graphic (design) Matters.”

 

1. What is “Graphic Matters”?  When was it born?

Up to now Graphic Matters is a biannual festival on graphic design. We feature mostly self-initiated projects by designers that care about current issues. We like to show attitudes over disciplines. Our main audience isn’t just other designers, but also young professionals in media and journalism. Our projects show the impact of visual communication and hopefully inspires them to develop a more critical view and (re-)value design in their practice.

2. Who is your team made up of and what is your background before “GraphicMatters”?

Currently our team holds 7 professionals working on both Graphic Matters and Blind Walls Gallery. We also have a pet project called 3sec.gallery. Many people expect me to be a graphic designer, but I actually studied painting and printmaking. Graphic Arts was always a fascination. After graduating from art school (2003) I started curating shows in mixed disciplines. This evolved into a speciality in graphic design. In 2008 the Graphic Design Museum opened in Breda. The world’s first (and at that time only) museum dedicated to graphic design. It would show only the tip of the iceberg, in white rooms without context, for people that are already interested and paid for a ticket. As a young curator working on multi disciplinary exhibitions I gained much interest in the power of graphic design. Together with some friends I initiated Graphic Design Festival Breda. A biannual festival that would complement the museum by showing emerging designers, in public space, for everyone and for free.

After years of experimenting and discovering our true mission we changed the name to Graphic Matters in 2017. We felt this resonated better with our objective to make people aware of the impact of graphic design. Now we’ve organized seven editions, worked with many designers from all over the world, inspired thousands of young people and outlived the museum. It was forced to merge with the local historical museum. Since then the collection has been stored.

3. For more than 10 years you have organized festivals and events full of activities. How much work and time is behind it? How you choose locations, artists and topics?

In our team we spend about 3 full time jobs on Graphic Matters, during festivals we have freelancers and over 50 volunteers to help us. In the past a full cycle from developing the concept, finding funding, pre-production, execution and follow-up took almost 2 years. After this some of our projects would start an European tour to be displayed at other festivals. As the main curator I initiate theme’s and develop these with co-curators. I take my inspiration from what I see, hear, read… I try to sense what is going on in society and connect this to the (future) practice of designers. This is why we hardly show commercial work, this is always following fashion, while we try to stay ahead. We enjoy not having out own venue, but to be able to find exciting places and contribute to their development.

4. You have recently collaborated on the “Stay sane, stay safe” project. Tell us more about and how was this collab born?

After the first shock of lock-down we saw 2 kinds of graphic design erupt. Shopkeeping creating/inventing all kinds of messages and signing to inform people about the new situation. This was different everywhere. Often very confusing. It showed design is a profession 😉 On the other hand we saw designers that visually responded to the situation. As their practice was often pauzed they started to create messages of hope. The Hague based studio Lennarts & De Bruijn together with copywriter Overdeschreef did something similar and decide to include others. Their call for Stay Sane, Stay Safe posters reminded my of our biannual Open Call for posters. Designers from all over the world replied, but their work could only be seen online, and mostly was seen by other designers. So to break this we took the projects to the streets in 3 stages. First 6 weeks of lockdown we presented 12 poster designs in 275 A0 sized commercial frames in public space of Breda. As cool designs kept coming we extended he selection from 12 to 46. These posters became part of two pop-up shows that travelled for 4 weeks. The installations were presented in different squares and parks around our city. Currently stage 3 is the exhibition of 75 designs in our 3sec.gallery. A drive-by gallery in the city center.

5. Graphic and visual design surrounds us both in the physical and digital world. How do you think this will be in 10 years?

I don’t think it will be different. But we try to influence the messages behind the images. The content we see right now (specially in public) is mainly commercial. We don’t like the idea of what we see in  public space (both digital and physical) is determined by commercial parties. Putting out more artistic and challenging images is our way of making people aware of the impact visual communication has.

6. Any exciting future projects we can expect?

Always! We started a proces to turn Graphic Matters from a biannual festival into an ongoing program of events. Throughout the year we want to set up more events (masterclasses, talks, public interventions and international exhibitions) from our Graphic Matters Lab. Here we research the themes of the festival together with designers and other stakeholders. By doing so the festival will have stronger content, but will also evolve in shape and duration. First Graphic Matters Lab projects can be expected in 2021.

In the mean time we keep creating murals and events with Blind Walls Gallery and we have some 3sec.gallery shows planned too.
Thanks to Dennis Elbers and Graphic Matters. If you want to see more projects by Graphic Matters follow them on FLICKR
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Based in

Breda, The Netherlands