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Dutch design energy comes to China

Currently touring China, the Social Energy project gets Chinese designers excited about Dutch graphic and communication design.

By Katie Dominy / 20-11-2008

‘In this era, perhaps the most important thing is not to discuss the quality of design, but its energy.’ Social Energy project.

The project Social Energy: Contemporary Communication Design from the Netherlands has toured Chengdu and Beijing – next stop Shenzhen and Shanghai. The exhibition features more than 300 projects from 11 Dutch designers, such as Karel Martens, Lust, Irma Boom, Mooren & van der Velden and Studio Dumbar; all pioneers in various communication design fields.

Using examples from music, sociology, media linguistics, popular culture and product development and more, these studios demonstrate through books, brand identity, maps, architectural graphics, signage, video, animation etc, how their work today has changed from purely graphic design to communication design. The initial leg at Chengdu took place over September/October and Beijing will finish on November 21.

Li Degeng, director of OMD Contemporary Design Terminal the exhibition organisers, explains that the purpose behind the project, ‘is to show the Chinese people, especially those working in design, the exploration, accomplishments and methods adopted by Dutch designers of contemporary communication. And also to explain the relationship between Dutch contemporary design and Dutch society, which will not only greatly enhance the understanding of Chinese people about Dutch design, but will also contribute to the growth of the new generation designers in China’.

Degeng, also a professor from the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing continues, ‘Furthermore, it is the first time that graphic design from a western country has been interpreted from a Chinese perspective, which I believe will have an impact on other design communication activities in the future’.

The project has so far had a positive response. ‘The exhibition in Chengdu not only attracted a lot of local designers and institutions, but the Design association in Chongqing and the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts arranged for hundreds of people to participate, even though the exhibition was more than a four hour drive away. And it also attracted designers from most of the southwest cities such as Kunming, Xi'an etc. As for the number of visitors in Beijing, it’s been even greater,’ Degeng says. ‘For many Chinese designers, it is still rather difficult to understand design from abroad (it’s always the case in China), so we made a documentary on Dutch design, published introduction guides and carried out interviews with many newspapers and magazines, both print and online, which was a great help. The people are beginning to ‘understand’ Dutch design rather than ‘taking a look at it’, which is important.’

The 11 design studios from the Netherlands involved in this project are Karel Martens, Richard Niessen, Machine, Studio Dumbar, NLXL, Catalogtree, Lust, Irma Boom, Maureen Mooren & Daniel van der Velden, Armand Mevis & Linda van Deusen.

Social Energy is the latest in a series of projects organised in China by Contemporary Design Terminal (OMD), a group established by Chinese designers who have worked in Europe to promote design, especially on cross-cultural themes. They have set up a blog to catalogue the project’s tour around the country.

Social Energy has received support from the Netherlands China Arts Foundation, the Mondriaan Foundation, Premsela and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with the accompanying publications being produced by Today Art Museum in Beijing.

After Beijing, the exhibition will move to Shenzhen from 10 January to 20 February 2009 and Shanghai in March 2009.

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