First up we fittingly start with Knust, a pioneer of the stencil machine printing technique for art and publishing processes, including the use of the Risograph and its forerunner, the mimeograph. Knust is an artist-run publishing organization and print workspace based in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, led by Jan Dirk de Wilde, who was later joined by Joyce Guley and others. It is also the name of the graphic department of artist-run organization Extrapool. Ask publishers and practitioners who have been using the Risograph for several years now, and they will likely point to visiting the Knust workspace or viewing the work of Knust as a huge influence on their own Risograph work.
1. How would you describe Knust to someone who is hearing about it for the first time? What would one expect to find at Knust in terms of print and other creative services and facilities?
Knust is an artist-run publishing organization. Knust has a lot of DIY equipment for printing and binding and specializes in mimeograph printing techniques. Knust makes books and zines and has artists over to make books.
Knust has three workshops, two in Nijmegen and one in Amsterdam, where you can print and bind books yourself completely.
Knust books are considered to be rough by appearance, not only in ways of printing, but in paper choice and ways of binding.
2. Describe the path to how Knust was founded in the early 1980s. What was the catalyst for starting an initiative which specializes in stencil printing? Were other forms of print (e.g. silkscreening, offset) considered? How did you both become involved with Knust?
Knust was founded by Jan Dirk de Wilde in 1983. It had already been a loose group of zine and comic makers since the early 1980s.
At first, we ourselves had no intention to print. There was enough opportunity for relatively cheap printing at alternative offset and silkscreen printers in the squatting movement [in Nijmegen at the time].
We wanted to make real [art]zines and therefore did not want to use stencil machines/mimeographs. They were the low-cost DIY alternative at the time, but seemed always to produce low quality print work and very much had the aura of activism and were not taken seriously, we thought.
So the first zines were offset printed and very comic-like. We never think about them now and were surprised that some of the zines we made were shown in a museum in an exhibition about the punk-era.
After some time, we found out why so much printed matter was just black and white or had only one extra spot color. Printers had to clean extensively between color runs, and if they went for a break, the ink started drying out.
One day, somebody brought in a Gestetner stencil machine from the 1930s, used previously by some school decades before, which we decided not throw out. We bought a tube of ink to continue printing with the machine. We then thought we could use stencil machines much like laser and ink jet printers are used nowadays. We thought it would be great if we had a machine for every color and leave it and only print a copy when we needed it, a kind of printing on-demand. The stencil ink is completely non-drying and very oily.
We found ways of printing much deeper than what was commonly produced on stencil machines and how to deal with overset. We discovered the Roneo multi-color system, which was far more sophisticated than regular stencil machines. Roneo is a true ancestor of Risoprinting because it already uses exchangeable color drums, where others had fixed rollers. We started collecting these machines, as they were being replaced everywhere by photocopy machines.
By the end of the 1980s, we were regarded to be the stencilprinting specialists. Our books became much wilder and complicated, with books inside books, different page sizes and fold-outs.
In 1990, Joyce Guley joined with the beginning of Extrapool. She started with creating the sound-art program at Extrapool and picked up printing when the first Riso digital duplicator [the official name for the Risograph], was bought. Other brands existed too and came in 1991.
So we did become printers in the end!
3. You are known as pioneers of stencil printing. How did you start to integrate the use of the Risograph into Knust? What kinds of machines were you using before the Risograph?
We made many books with mainly Roneo stencil machines. Stencils were made by a stencil cutter which burned holes in the plastic stencil. It is very good for abstract, wild, uncontrolled multi-color printing.
Small text and photos are poorly reproduced by analogue stencil cutters. Sometimes we brought text and photos to offset printers, just to make them readable and clear, and then added color with the Roneo machines.
We bought our first digital duplicator in 1992. It was a Ricoh Priport, the first machine with a bigger format than B4: the A3.For some years we used this machine together with the Roneo machines. We managed to make our own Roneo ink after experimenting with different oils and pigment.
Things changed further by the time color scanners became cheaper in 1995 and we did not need to do full color work on the analogue machines anymore.
In 1997, we bought the first Risograph with computer-interface and printing got much better, faster and easier and we ended up using the Roneo machines much less. Now we use the Roneo as a special effect machine and as a gimmick, much as how we first started using stencilmachines.
4. What kinds of Risograph projects are those coming to Knust working on nowadays?
In the mid-1990s we became the alternative printer of Nijmegen and got more and more work from further away. You could not go out in Nijmegen and not come across posters and flyers which were printed at Knust. We were cheaper than regular printing. We invested in binding equipment and we grew.
In the 1990s, the jobs we did were not so artistically interesting. It was our own publications which stood out.
Around the turn of the century, graphic designers started coming [to Knust]. The jobs we did became more special, and more artists came wanting to use our workshops and made proposals, some of which fitted our budget.
5. Are there any memorable projects that you have seen produced at Knust?
A memorable project is when Knust went to Geneva and took two printing machines and lots of colour drums in a van and traveled two days to arrive at the Museum Contemporain to print the newest issue of DotDotDot together with the artists and designers.
Other memorable projects:
- Doing a workshop in Antwerp were we made Rotkop 9 (an Antwerp-based art zine) in a shed in the garden.
- Making Vernacular Painting, a total full colour book in an edition of 1100, which freaked us out but was exciting in the end.
- Doing the exhibition Rules of Hypergraphy in Extrapool.
- Designing the book called Draaiboek (made around a gluestick spine) and the inventive collapsable Postwestlandbode.
6. How have you seen the types of projects change over the years since Knust was founded 30 years ago? For example, have you observed a defining style, aesthetic or process every few years? Any notable trends?
In the beginning our stencil printing was more of a gimmick and we were happy with anything that came out of the machines, if it came out at all. [The outcomes were] often beyond our control.
Over time, our projects became more conceptual. The books we now make are much more aesthetically-based and really explore the [stencil printing] technique. Sometimes people come up to us and tell us they heard that we used to make very rough books in the 1990s.
Now we print 300-700 copies. Of most books we have unbound copies in a box in the cellar. Sometimes we take a box and put 20 old books together. They always sell quite fast, though people say they like the forms and binding but that the artwork is better in the new books.
We see a big difference in work that comes our way. People want to print a lower amount of copies. There are many Riso-printers active in our country, meaning less people are comng our way.
7. In general, how have you seen the use of the Risograph impact the work of artists and designers over the years, whether it be at Knust, in your travels or in the creative milieu? Why do you think people want to continue to use the Risograph instead of other print forms?
You can get a secondhand Riso machine quite easily and really print a sufficient amount of copies and pages for a book yourself. Even with 20-year old machines it goes well. Risoprinting is special because it puts real ink on paper. Stencil ink resembles oil paint and is at its best on rough paper, because this absorbs more ink and the image is therefore deeper. Risoprinting is thus very physical and gives the reader dirty hands.
Not so long ago we were the only ones at book fairs with Riso-books and had always to explain about the printing technique. If you now go to the New York Art Book Fair, you will find dozens of Risoprinters.
The Riso-books stand out in regard to digitally (offset) printed work; they are more primitive and have a DIY feel, and still feel more like books than zines produced on laser printers/copy machines. For us, it now comes down to the quality of our printing, along with the artwork and selection of people we work with.
8. Knust has a unique quality of being part of an interdisciplinary art and sound space, Extrapool. What is the relation between the two spaces? In what ways do you think print is influenced by sound and art at the space, if at all?
Knust is much older than Extrapool. Knust is one of the founders of Extrapool. Extrapool began in 1990 in an old warehouse. It was set up as a studio building. We made the right decision to have a public/project space and small guesthouse. This made it possible that in about 10 years, Extrapool grew into a real art organization with a lot of performances, sound, exhibitions and workshops.
Knust grew sort of parallel to it. In 2009, the space went under huge renovations: Knust got a new extra workshop and beautiful guest rooms were made. Our production had become a bit fragmented over time and we felt the need to have more influence over the books which came out of the workshops. We also started two residency series: Art Prison and Work Holiday, coordinated by Astrid Florentinus who came in 2010. Art Prison is curated and Work Holiday is open call.
Knust projects are now integrated in Extrapool programming. There is much more connection between the two spaces now.
Knust used to specialize in the printing of posters and flyers and the SlimTarra wallpaper project. At the end of the 1980s, we started to do shows/exposition/presentations of our work. Showing books in an exhibition environment is tricky. We produced a lot of misprints and used them as wall paper. This was quite successful and clients, including gallery owners, came in for misprints to decorate their walls with.
As we got better, we produced less misprints and had to design and print new wallpaper. Because we could only print A3, this became our thing.
Extrapool later picked up the A3 wallpaper concept and called it SlimTarra. Slim is the Dutch word for “smart” and tarra means the weight of the package. It is a way to cover the white cube which Extrapool’s exhibition space had become. In the beginning, Extrapool pretended there was, as in so many art spaces, a special project space called room 0.2. In this case 0.2 meant 0.2 mm, the thickness of paper and the room it takes in the space. SlimTarra now is a strong part of the Extrapool identity.
9. Originally the Risograph was developed for use by schools, libraries, churches and other institutions trying to disseminate information. Now it’s being used by graphic artists, zine-makers, publishers and designers to disseminate ideas and share their work locally and globally. Where do you see the Risograph heading in the next 30 years? What do you think is the future of the Risograph and the work created by this machine?
We (wishfully?) think Risoprinting will be still there, perhaps under a different name.
There is a growing demand for real books. If you look at the expanding market for artist books, we think it will stay and grow as an autonomous medium. They are not catalogues and reproduction of artworks anymore, but original works of art themselves.
The artist book is a good way to get your work across to a certain number of people without interference. The fact that it is artist-made and ready and cannot be interfered with will be important properties.
So there will be a certain but small market for Riso, or any other company, to produce digital stencil-duplicators. There is already a Chinese company making digital duplicators and analogue machines. You now can get ink in China for your own Gestetner machine again. There could be a small company who would see the art and design niche. They probably won’t make a lot of money, but it could work.
A lot of limitations of Riso comes out of the fact that the machines are made for high-speed, cheap printing. Every new Riso is faster. For artists, speed and even price of printing are less relevant. Control over the image processing, the feeding system, adjusting the ink amount, is what matters.
Riso and the other companies tend to make the machines better fit for smoother paper (i.e. plain copy paper) all the time, though this is opposite from the basic characteristics of the technique: drying by absorption.
A machine specially made for artists would be somewhat different! Mimeograph techniques survived the emerging of toner-based printing, not because it is cheaper but because it is more physical. That’s why it also is surviving the digital screen revolution and the inkjet printer getting faster and cheaper by the day. There is no technique as good in getting real oil-based ink, almost like oil paint, on basic, uncoated rough paper that looks like paper and in fact is paper.
When we started stencilprinting, everybody thought the technique was dying out. People asked the same question more than 25 years ago and I would reply: We make our own ink and wait for a digital machine for color separation.We did not have any notion of what really would come out.
To find out now that there is a revolution happening in artistic media, and that this [movement] has made it possible for us to keep on doing what we were doing and getting better all the time, is great.
10. Bonus question: Top 5 publishers/designers/printers/artists you admire or are inspired by, locally and globally?
Mmm…heroes . When we started we were influenced by 1960s underground publications like the American publication Zap (by R. Crumb), the French publication Hari Kiri (which featured cartoonist Georges Wolinski) or the Dutch publication Hitweek (founded by Willem de Ridder) or Raw (edited by Art Spiegelman) and the punk zine Sniffin’ Glue (edited by Mark Perry) from the 1970s.
Photos provided by Knust/Knust website.