From early on in 2020, it has become clear how vital social media platforms are to helping students in their learning from home.
The bookbinding workshop – as the reader may imagine – is, like many other technical spaces, focused on honing practical skills, material knowledge, and learning by doing.
Prolific makers, students who nourish their technical skills in bookbinding throughout their studies, create ambitious designs that give audiences a rounded, holistic experience of the message. They achieve a greater understanding of form, function and composition and material study as they experiment, fail, and grow their knowledge in a centuries old tradition of bookbinding and publishing. Hence it is of the greatest interest to any educational institution to sustain and support this type of skill. Especially in a digital age where all traditional skill seems obsolete.
However, by embracing existing online tools students are familiar with, such as Instagram and Moodle the bindery team has managed to create an exciting, responsive, and engaging platform to share learning resources that bridge the gap between digital and analogue learning outcomes.
A central part of the bookbinding workshop at Manchester School of Art (MSoA) is a specialist print process called risography. Risography, or short RISO, is a visually stunning and eco-friendly print process, marrying traditional screen and stencil printing with the velocity of a photocopier. RISO is exceedingly popular with students in the visual arts – it is also a skill that increases employability and empowers students in their small business endeavours. It is often used to produce zines due to its visual and tactile qualities.
Assistant Technical Officers at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), George Gibson and Lisa Lorenz are RISO practitioners and avid printers, who offer a rich resource of knowledge of opportunities for collaboration to their students.
George’s expertise in communications and online marketing gained from their own professional practice as an artist, enabled the entire Makers team to learn and benefit from their experience. At the time of writing this article, the team’s Instagram account @msoa_teamprint counts 1,527 followers and has published 273 posts highlighting students’ achievements, home tutorials for printmaking and bookbinding processes, project and job opportunities.
Whilst the @msoa_teamtprint account has been vital to stay in touch with students during the pandemic, it is still just as important to keep alumni, current students and external audiences engaged: nurturing collaboration, and working as a platform to highlight the outstanding work students create aided by technicians. It is a responsive tool that works as a form of digital archive, network and inspiration which offered a sense of community and connectivity throughout the pandemic and beyond.
Digital communication has been paramount to surviving during the pandemic, but both George and Lisa are physical makers at heart, partial to traditional craft and keen to secure the tactile nature of the bindery within an increasingly virtual world.
Over the years technicians have collected RISO printed zines* and prints in archival folders for posterity. George saw the potential in a more public way of displaying this rich resource and, since 2021 has begun to sort through publications scattered in plan chest drawers and hidden between shelves which were published by Manchester School of Art staff and alumni.
The zines needed to be seen and expanded – the idea of MSoA Team Print Zine Library was born. A call out was posted around the university: WE NEED UR ZINES: Donate your zines to the archive to inspire our future bookbinding students. The only prerequisite is that donations stick to the one thread binding all the publications together: Manchester Met made.
Utilising MMU’s own wood workshop, shelves were commissioned to display the collection in a form that also acts like an exhibition – presenting the editions, cover forward, to anyone accessing the room. Removing the collection from its forgotten folders not only gave easier access for references and learning, but a platform for Manchester-based zine makers to read each other’s work.
New publications hot off any press within the university have an official stockist and keen readership. The workshop zine library currently houses over 100 editions. George has since begun cataloguing the editions, to merge the physical and digital via an online Moodle archive.
The zine library offers a great chance for students, staff, and visitors alike to have an intimate and immediate connection with the artists’ work. They can feel, see, smell, hear the publication. Compared to a flat and smooth screen there are a multitude of additional layers to discover.
When a call for an international zine collaboration – BUG magazine – from ABK (Academy of the Visual Arts) Stuttgart, Germany was advertised in early spring 2021 Lisa decided to take the lead in forming a student working group that would represent Manchester School of Art. The idea was simple: students at ABK Stuttgart would receive an edition of prints from each collaborating group and bind it into a compendium. Each participating group would in return receive one copy of the compendium.
Interest in the project was huge: print collectives from five continents took part in the project, which offered participating students a great chance for exposure. While the pandemic put in-person exhibitions and travel to a halt, taking part in BUG mag gave them a chance to work on a real-life project. The project helped students in learning or honing their risography, teamwork, and project management skills.
Working on a project that promotes digital sharing and networking, as well as a physical outcome, was a rewarding and exciting experience for the students involved. An outstanding example of the value of physical publications, the importance of workshops at universities, and the creative practice of technical staff – print is not dead!
Traditional craft, such as bookbinding and print, in combination with the possibility of digital advances such as augmented reality, embedded QR codes and international collaboration via Zoom, Instagram and TikTok – offer a wide range of learning and professional growth. Making traditional craft future-proof almost comes naturally when keeping a curious mind and conversations with students in a healthy flow. It is an exciting opportunity for technical staff to expand their knowledge in digital media and arts whilst conserving specialist skills and passing them on to a new generation of creative practitioners.
*/ziːn/ A zine is a small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced via a copy machine. Zines are the product of either a single person or of a very small group, and are popularly photocopied into physical prints for circulation. (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zine).
George Gibson is a freelance artist and bookmaker, working within galleries, communities and DIY projects. In 2016 they co-founded Shy Bairns (www.shybairns.co.uk), a collective of artists, designers and curators interested in print. Shy Bains produce collaborative publishing projects, most recently exhibiting at The Grundy, Blackpool.
Lisa Lorenz is a freelance graphic designer, publisher and workshop facilitator for community groups, galleries, and museums. She is founder and director of Team Trident Press specializing in risograph-printed, hand-made books and zines and has exhibited most recently with Tokyo, Dublin, and Bergen Art Book Fair. www.teamtridentpress.com