Four years ago, to negate the unavoidable constraints of commercial work, Urs Lehni bought a Risograph GR 3770. The Zurich-based designer began to use the almost-forgotten printer as an outlet for personal projects, and has since published – with the help of many talented friends – a whole catalogue of books that collectively rubbish claims Risography is “over” as a design-industry fad. We asked Urs to confirm how and why Rollo Press came about, and what he has planned next…
Hi Urs, why did you set Rollo Press up?
It started in December 2007, after I had more or less accidentally purchased a Risograph printer. Lex Trueb and I had worked on some lengthy and very exhausting commissions, and in reaction we began to look for our own means of production in order to be able to produce printed matter in a more spontaneous way. Initially I just had a photocopier in mind, but when I saw Dot Dot Dot No. 15 and read that the issue was produced on a stencil printer — a technique I had never heard of — I decided to research a little more. Astonishingly I found a very old but cheap machine from a Swiss printing house that was to be closed down, and I decided to give it a try.
As the machine is rather easy to handle, it didn’t take me too long to figure out what could be done with it, and I contacted a few friends whose work I liked and proposed the idea of publishing some of it. In that manner we produced the first Rollo publication — the Lousy Animals and Friends Coloring Book by Hamburg-based Stefan Marx — almost immediately after I purchased the machine.
Do you only publish the work of friends?
I always used the term “friends and accomplices” to make clear that Rollo Press is neither a commercial project nor a cheap copy shop, but a rather private publishing project where everything is done in a way that we — the makers — consider to be healthy. However, this doesn’t mean that I’m only publishing work by friends. In several cases the story reversed – friendships have been established through publishing the work of someone I didn’t know. I hadn’t known Erik van der Weijde before he approached me with the proposal for This is Not my Son, for example. But I immediately agreed, and later Erik came to Zürich for a couple of days, stayed at my place and together we produced the book.
What are your thoughts on Riso printing as a fad?
On the one hand I think it’s great to see so many (graphic) designers share the same kind of enthusiasm, energy and will to produce projects under similar circumstances: self-initiated, self-organised, self-financed, etc. It seems to me that this field has a lot of extra energy — or maybe also a lot of frustration — and to run a small press seems to serve as the perfect offset to channel that energy.
However, what I’m quite critical about is the fact that Riso printing has became a rather fixed model tied to a certain aesthetic in a very short amount of time. In my view, the outcomes of a lot of these types of presses look very much alike, and in many cases the Riso printer is used more like a Photoshop filter, in order to add a certain chic. Also, every now and then I’m wondering what would happen if we would manage to find a way of combining all these scattered small initiatives instead of everybody working in his own niche?
What’s next for Rollo?
There are a few publications to be released soon, which have been on my desk for a very long time. One of them is a book that we produced in collaboration with my brother, Jürg, about his infamous robot Hektor. Another one is a series of photocopy prints made by Sigmar Polke (Revolutionsdrucke), that Stefan Marx and I turned into a book on site of the Hamburger Kunstverein in conjunction with an exhibition Stefan had there. And, maybe most importantly, Erik van der Weijde and I are trying to raise funds for a sequel of This is Not my Son, this time called This is Not my Wife. We would like to produce bigger numbers, and are therefore working with an offset printer. Erik came up with the idea to test crowd funding and has created a site here. So if any of you readers feel like contributing some dollars to our new project we would be more than happy!