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Rise of the Risograph, Part Three

This week, we're checking in with art institutions to see how they use Risographs.

Article By John Dugan and Matt Putrino, March 18, 2013

Previously, we looked at the history of the Risograph itself and what small design studios and artists in the US and Europe are doing with the low-cost printer today. This week, we're checking in with art institutions and art schools who own Risographs to see how and why they've embraced this economical printing technology.

First, we checked in with Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art to see how it uses the Riso. We had heard rumors that it was using the Riso "for everything."

MCA Chicago. Alfredo Ruiz, Senior Designer
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago acquired its Riso soon after James Goggin was appointed Director of Design, Publishing, and New Media (DPNM). Working as a London-based designer, lecturing, and participating in workshops globally, and teaching at both ECAL in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem, Netherlands, respectively, James was very familiar with the charm of printing on a Riso. 

"Art > Art" by Scott Reinhard

We produce a lot of printed ephemera for visitors at MCA Chicago, and James thought the Riso would be a perfect tool for our burgeoning in-house design studio. In addition to its eco-friendliness (a plus), the Riso met our need to produce printed matter on the spot—we use a print-on-demand model for small projects—and the department also wanted to be able to produce its own projects. As a work horse, the Riso is used for printing the MCA's monthly visitor guide, a one-color, two-sided, half-letter hand out that lists exhibitions and programs. With certain exhibitions, we are asked to produce an activity guide, which gets printed on the Riso as well. This is a tabloid, folded down to eighths, with educational content corresponding to accompanying exhibitions. We have also used it a lot for education and teen program campaigns. The department also encourages its designers to use the Riso for design explorations, which usually result in posters or limited-edition prints, such as Scott Reinhard's experiments with the MCA Teen Creative Agency poster “Art > Art,” and James's "Color Ting" print produced for his Pop Culture Color Theory lecture at the now defunct gallery/shop Golden Age in 2011.

We've only had a limited number of artists actually use the Riso, even though we always encourage participation. For a small design show, "We Are Here: Art & Design Out of Context," curated by James Goggin and myself, two of the featured artists' groups used the Riso for their installations. Product designers Tim Parsons and Jessica Charlesworth used it pragmatically for their Adhocism project, working with us on a handout that explained their interests and practices, referencing the seminal 1972 book Adhocism: The Case for Improvisation by Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver. Martine Syms and Marco Kane Braunschweiler, erstwhile founders and proprietors of Golden Age, used the Riso a bit more conceptually. While "re-creating" Golden Age in the MCA's gallery, they moved our Risograph up to the space so they could edit and print the conceptual business textbook Reference Work

A large project that spun out of having the Riso at hand was the Martin Creed newspaper. In anticipation of the artist residency "Martin Creed Plays Chicago," the DPNM department saw a great opportunity to create a newspaper that would provide factual information and interpretive content for his unpredictable projects, with new works popping up every month in 2012. The newspaper consisted of a volume of six issues, printed on multicolored construction paper, two colors, double-sided, designed to be hand-folded into a booklet or left flat as a tabloid or poster. The papers contain images of featured Creed works, object information, and writing by museum staff and guest cultural writers. The newspaper did go through approvals by the artist and his gallery, but it was a complete museum production. It was a thrill to hear that Martin Creed enjoyed the end result. 

The Risograph goes to art school

Art schools are either buying Risos for their faculty, staff, and students to use, or partnering with local presses that already use them for instructional purposes.

By partnering with local presses, art schools in the United States and Europe have found a way to offer instruction in the style of the micro-press within the context of a much bigger institution. The classes usually resemble something between an internship, a studio course, and a cultural history lesson.

The Communication Design program at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute offers a course called "Independent Publishing," led by Duncan Hamilton who runs a studio called The Uses of Literacy. The two-part course includes a primer on the history of short-run independent publishing and distribution, and concludes with each student printing (and ideally distributing) a 100-copy edition of their own publication.

In London, the Risograph studio Hato Press offers workshops at The Royal College of Art, Goldsmiths, and Central Saint Martins. They recently completed a collaborative Risograph project with students at the Royal College of Art's Hockney Gallery called the "Treating of Matters." The idea was to convert a gallery space into a "hybrid exhibition-production space that allowed the public to witness first hand the several stages in the making of a publication."

At Oberlin College in Ohio, there's a lot of Risograph activity centered around the Comic Collective. Matt Davis of the Collective tells us their Riso gets a lot of use. 

We found our Risograph at Oberlin's local UPS Store, unused and buried under debris and, as such, we bought it from them at a VERY reasonable price. The Collective primarily uses the Riso to duplicate our semesterly anthology zine of student artwork and comics. Additionally, we hold workshops for students on the basics of the machine's operation so they might use it to print their own zines, prints, "fine art," what have you. It is our thought that by democratizing the Risograph, we can offer a dynamic alternative to the very basic services offered by our college's print services and to the art department's more exclusive facilities. We also hope to help foster a healthy zine culture in Oberlin and, of course, encourage interest in self-publishing among students.

Detail from a Riso print by Luke Pelletier at the SAIC

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago acquired a Risograph in summer of 2012. Since then, its popularity has steadily grown. "The silkscreened effect is very appealing to visual communication students but has also been catching on in the print department. For the time being, we have seen mostly posters as well as business cards being run on it," says Meaghan Manuel, SAIC service bureau manager. All enrolled students, alumni, staff, and faculty of SAIC are able to submit files to the machine which is housed in the SAIC's service bureau.

Poster by technician Kate Roger for SAIC voting campaign 

The accessibility of the risograph means that new micro-presses open up everyday. If you're interested in learning more or working with an artist on a Riso project, be sure to check out this awesome Atlas of Risography from Issue Press to find a Risograph press in your home city.