Culture Report: The Rise of the Risograph - Voice of San Diego

Arts/Culture

Culture Report: The Rise of the Risograph

Fewer print-based artists will leave San Diego for Los Angeles if Burn All Books has its way.

Nick and Amanda Bernal of Burn All Books / Photo by Julia Dixon Evans

Can the risograph save the art scene in San Diego? It’s a lofty goal, but at least fewer print-based artists will leave for Los Angeles if Burn All Books has its way. In January, founders Amanda and Nick Bernal will celebrate their first anniversary of running the only risograph-based printing press in town.

A risograph, or a riso, was nearly made obsolete by the ubiquity and affordability of laser printers. For many years, risos were hidden away in basements and storage rooms with few people able or willing to repair them.

“So places like churches and schools that had them got rid of them in favor of just your regular laser jet printer, and then they kind of like, languished in the backrooms of these places until people figured out that they could use them for art,” Amanda Bernal said.

Risograph / Photo by Burn All Books

Invented in Japan in 1986, the riso is a digital duplicator that prints each color separately (a digital image is segmented into its individual color channels or layers first), burning masters like stencils using a thermal plate onto a thin sheet of banana fiber. These masters can print thousands of prints incredibly quickly, at a low cost.

“What I should say is that each layer needs to rest for a week,” said Nick Bernal. “But sometimes I run them faster.” In a rush to print posters or books, riso users will sometimes embrace roller marks or other flaws produced by applying a new color layer when the first one hasn’t rested long enough. But, Nick Bernal said, “this is why we like this, because it looks the way it does.”

Nick Bernal / Photo by Burn All Books

“It’s very ephemeral,” Amanda Bernal added of the soy-based, non-archival prints. “It doesn’t last forever. It looks pretty lo-fi. And it’s not great for every style of art or every artist, but it’s definitely a style in and of itself.”

Burn All Books published over a dozen books in its first year, plus many prints, posters, cards, calendars and other projects, and is looking to expand in 2019. More machines, books, art book fests, workshops and collaborations with schools. The Bernals also want to print more for activists and underserved groups, at low or no cost.

A Burn All Books workshop / Photo by Carmela Prudencio

“We’re probably not gonna make much money, but we can use this to help our friends produce some art. And that’s kind of how it started,” Amanda Bernal said. “We wanted to help people stay here and produce work, rather than sometimes moving [to Los Angeles] so that they could be closer to a printer or press.”

  • To celebrate its first anniversary, Burn All Books will host a performative zine and comics reading at Whistle Stop Bar on Jan. 3, featuring Ana Carrete, Laurie Piña and more.

Kitchmas, Sculptures, a Call for Migrant Films and More News for the Culture Crowd

  • The Union-Tribune is pairing with Media Arts Center San Diego (the home of Digital Gym) and the Latino Film Festival to present the Migrant Voices Film Challenge. They’re looking for short (three minutes max) videos in English or Spanish, documentaries encouraged, by Feb. 1.
  • A brand new sculpture was unveiled this morning in the San Diego Museum of Art’s public sculpture garden. Noguchi’s “Rain Mountain” is an 8-foot galvanized-steel sculpture that recently underwent an extensive restoration and will be a permanent installation in the garden.
Isamu Noguchi’s “Rain Mountain” / Photo courtesy of SDMA
Kitschmas / Photo courtesy of 1805 Gallery
  • Digital Gym has extended the run of Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” through Dec. 27. I saw it, and it’s a gorgeous movie, cinematic in all the senses, shot in black and white, and chronicles a volatile moment in Mexico City’s history, and in one family. While its simultaneous Netflix release confused everyone’s FOMO (what’s even the point of checking in to Digital Gym if half your followers are posting pictures of snuggling on the couch watching “Roma” at home?), it really is worth seeing in the theater. Digital Gym is quite small but it doesn’t skimp on visual or sound quality. I felt immersed. Watch the trailer or find showtimes here.

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