During my September stay in Berlin I was able to arrange a meeting with John Z. Komurki, author of the book Risomania. We met in his InkWell Studio and talked of course about Riso and the meaning of this technique for the art publishing.
OFICYNA: When and under what circumstances did you first meet Riso?
John Z. Komurki: Vetro’s first encounter with stencil duplicating was actually with a Duplo, another similar brand of printer. We acquired a second-hand model from the next door print shop when the owner decided that that technique was obsolete. Then later on we heard more and more about the Riso, and how some studios were experimenting in producing art prints and fanzines.
What do you think is the most characteristic feature of Riso that makes artists love this way of printing?
Attend any independent book fair around the world today and it can feel like a Risograph-inspired aesthetic is almost overwhelmingly predominant. There are several reasons for this. Primary, of course, is the fact that Riso looks amazing. The colours, textures and even the scent of Risograph prints are vivid and highly satisfactory, and there is a wide range of beautiful things you can do with a Riso, from mesmerising overlays of colours to lush pseudo-CYMK effects. And the very process seems to appeal to a certain type of creative intelligence. Unlike with design work that is executed purely on the computer, there is a hands-on, trial-and-error aspect to Riso printing. Your design will often evolve in tandem with the machine, and you end up with a paper trail documenting how the final product came about. Of course, screen printing provides a similar opportunity to build up a feedback loop with the medium, but it is a far more costly process (in terms of time, resources and experience). You will in fact often hear from printers that they migrated to the Risograph from silkscreen.
When did you start thinking about writing a book about Riso? What is the origin of Risomania?
A big step was teaming up with designer Luca Bogoni in setting up our own Riso press, Inkwell Press Berlin (Luca eventually co-curated and designed the book). The idea of the book came out of this. We decided to look at the contemporary Riso scene, but also provide some context, by talking to pioneers in the field, such as Knust in the Netherlands, and also by sketching the history of stencil duplicating, going all the way back to Edison’s first patent. We also traced the radical history of the mimeograph, which is a field we are researching at present.
Is there such a thing as the community around Riso?
People all around the world use the Riso for very different reasons. As we document in our most recent publication, ‘Riso as a Tool for Freedom’, while many designers and artists use the technology precisely for its visual effects, there are many publishers and studios who, in a certain sense, don’t really care about the Riso per se: it is simply a machine that lets them print autonomously. But, despite the many different ways that people use and conceive of the Risograph, we would argue that you can talk about a global Riso community. And this community is growing and being consolidated constantly, thanks in part to events like Magical Riso and Rrreplica, and in part to efforts like the invaluable Stencil Wiki website.
You are just finishing work on book about screen printing. What do you follow choosing heroes and studios for your book?
One interesting difference between curating “Silkscreen Masters” and “Risomania” was that, after a year’s research, we felt we had a good sense of the Riso scene (not that we knew everybody, but we had an idea of the broad shape of things). Screen printing, by contrast, is infinite – there is no way you can try to encapsulate the whole discipline in one book. So instead we focused on a selection of printers and studios, all of whom use silkscreen in a different and innovative way. Alongside an exhaustive manual, our goal was to give a sense of the wide range of things you can do with screen printing, and share the work of some world-leading printers and artists.
What is the future for edition prints and artistic books?
DIY’s future’s bright. There is in fact an increasing need for politically and commercially autonomous publishing, in an age of fake news and resurgent right wing movements. The Risograph has a role to play in that.
Interview by Michał Chojecki
RISOMANIA – The first book describing the phenomena of the Riso print in artists publications.
Language: english & french
Publisher: Vetro Editions