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Big Fag Press Emerging Artists Residency Programme

Announcing our first project for 2013:
the Big Fag Press Emerging Artists Residency Programme.

For three weeks in January 2013, Big Fag Press will host two emerging artists in its Woolloomooloo workshops. In fact, they both showed up this morning all starry eyed and excited about starting a new project from scratch!

Who are they? Laura Hindmarsh (from Hobart) and Pat Grant (from Wollongong).

pat grant

Pat Grant churning through prototypes for his Big Fag project…

Laura is known for her video and performance work; Pat is an accomplished comic book maker. Both are committed to interdisciplinary practice, collaboration and experimentation, which makes them ideal for our residency programme.

laura hindmarsh

Laura Hindmarsh developing new ideas on “Day One” of the residency…

The idea is to provide an opportunity to artists who would not normally be able to afford such a luxurious period of time playing around on our machine. It also means that we at the Big Fag extend ourselves, trying out ways of working that are outside of our normal methods.

In Sydney, Pat and Laura be accommodated by Artspace‘s residential studios in Woolloomooloo (10 minutes walk from Big Fag Press). Artspace has been a terrific supporter of Big Fag, ever since we moved to Woolloomooloo a few years ago.

Pat and Laura will work intensively with Big Fag Press personnel. The advantage of having two simultaneous artists in residence is that their projects can cross-pollinate as they evolve. They may, if they choose, even collaborate with each other!

At the end of the residency period, we’ll host an informal launch at the First Draft Depot, so you can see what Laura and Pat have come up with. (The launch will probably take place on the afternoon of February 3rd – we’ll update here shortly). Many thanks to First Draft Gallery for supporting this whole programme!

Meantime – if you’d like to pop down between now and the beginning of February, please get in touch – we’ll put on the kettle for ya!

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The Big Fag Press Emerging Artist Residency Programme is supported by the Australia Council for the Arts’ grant for Artist Run Initiatives.

ozco logo

Working with Old Plates

knab everyday plate cleaner

photo by Louise Anderson

Warning!! Boring Technical Blog Post

Sometimes we store offset litho plates we’ve used, thinking, “maybe we’ll do a reprint of this one”.

Rarely do we do a reprint…

But we’re in the process of getting around to reprinting the popular Mapping Sydney prints of Jane Shadbolt, and also those of Naomi Stead, Katrina Schlunke and Trina Day.

We still have the plates from way back in 2009 when we produced a non-editioned set of these works for a show at UTS.

Yesterday, when we retrieved the Sydney Letters plate, it looked pretty rough. It still had old ink on it, which we couldn’t remove with our normal plate cleaner (“gum washout”), and it looked like it hadn’t been “gummed” before going into storage.

Usually this means that the non-printing areas of the old plate have been exposed to air, and thus corroded, and the ink will be attracted to the raw metal corroded ‘pits’.

When we tried to print it (as part of the process of testing whether we needed to get new plates made), the non-print areas of the plate were indeed ‘dirty’ – and we were getting specks and smudges transferred to the blanket and thus the paper.

Louise and I were resigned to the idea of having to chuck out the plate and get a new one made.

But before we gave up entirely, I googled “lithographic plate corrosion” and found this fabulous name for our problem: Ink Dot Scum

Ink Dot Scum:

A printing problem found on aluminum plates used in offset lithography characterized by thousands of tiny, inked dots in non-image portions of the plate. Ink dot scum is caused by corrosion of the aluminum, which forms thousands of tiny pits that, when the film of fountain solution wears off, fill with ink.

The corrosion is commonly caused by adding a layer of water to the surface of the plate and allowing it to evaporate slowly, providing enough time for oxidation of the metal surface to occur. It is also found frequently in a band corresponding to the position of a wet dampening roller.

If the scumming is caught in time, and its effects are still localized within a small region of the plate, a solution of phosphoric acid and gum arabic can be used to eliminate it. If it has progressed far, the plate may be unusable.

That sounds pretty much spot on.

I then rummaged around in our chemical cupboard and lo and behold, I found the above bottle. (Who knows where it came from – so many of our printing supplies are “hand-me-downs” from defunct commercial printing presses).

I rang KNAB, the manufacturer, who had cleverly put their phone number on the bottle. Indeed, this stuff was a mixture of phosphoric acid and gum arabic! The very helpful fellow from Knab said it might work, depending on how far gone the corrosion was. Basically, as I understand it, the acid cuts through the ink build-up on the plate, and then a new layer of gum is put over the top. This thin gum-film stops the inking rollers from coming into contact with the corroded pits in the plate.

We tried it (clean soft rag, gently rubbing it in the areas of “Ink Dot Scum”.

It worked! The Ink Dot Scum came off, and didn’t come back.

Here endeth the lesson.

We started with zero knowledge about offset printing in 2004 when we got the Big Fag Press, and it was a steep learning curve. And we still learn something new, pretty much every time we throw the 3-phase switch and our steel monster comes shuddering to life…

News from the centre of the Universe

dafi kuhne with his fag press

Dafi Kuhne is an artist and printmaker in Switzerland – at the heart of Mordor, so to speak, in terms of the FAG corporation.

We’ve been corresponding with Dafi for a few years now. Users of FAG machines tend to look out for each other and enjoy hearing that other FAGs are still trucking along, all around the world.

Dafi uses letterpress rather than offset, and he has created a website to celebrate the letterpress side of the FAG empire.

In his blog entry, which I’ve cut and pasted below, he kindly makes a concession to us, including our FAG OP-104 offset proofing press in his canon of classic heavy metal machines.

Dafi found and used the video below – which shows Dr Greg Turner, a big fan of the Big Fag, helping to print DJ Spooky‘s print Nauru Elegies.

(More info on the print with DJ Spooky here).

Cheers to you and your letterpress children, Dafi, from your lithographic brothers in Sydney.
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Brothers in mind in Sydney, Australia
by Dafi Kuhne.

FAG did not only make letterpress cylinder proof presses but also flatbed offset proof presses. Already in 1972 (the same year they developed the Swiss Proof Presses!) they released their first offset proof press: The ‹FAG Offsetpress 7654›. In 1977 they released the bigger ‹FAG OP-104›, a 4.5 meters long, 3.5 tons heavy flatbed offset proof press in that could fit 70x100cm sheets. The press came with two interchangeable complete inking units including its motors and wash-up units. This inking system made 4 color proofs much easier and faster to handle, since the time consuming washing of there rollers is carried out outside the press. This massive press was a big success and sold to all five continents until the late 80ies.

New quality control tools and the first inkjet proof systems made the use of more expensive offset proofs obsolete and so FAG moved its efforts towards quality control in the aspect of all kinds of densitometers for offset production presses.

The point where this chapter about FAG offset proof presses ends is the point where the story of ‹Big FAG Press› in Sydney begins… In 2004 four artists from Sidney could buy an old FAG OP-104 for the nominal value of $50 at an auction.

They say on their webpage: «In 2004, one unfortunate printer in Sydenham (an inner-Sydney suburb) didn’t see this change coming, and went bust. The liquidation auction was very sad. Nobody wanted his equipment despite the large number of print professionals in the room. Instead, they just picked over the carcasses of his office furniture. Having received a tip off from our local Master Printer, Jens Hausch, Big Fag Press attended the auction and placed the winning (and only) bid on the big beautiful FAG 104 Offset Proof Press. Our bid was fifty dollars.»

You can see in the video that the offset plate is on the right side – laying flat. Then the cylinder (including the watering system and some ink rollers) rolls over the plate to the right side. With this process the rubber blanket on the cylinder picks up the ink. On its way back the rubber blanket applies the ink to the sheet laying flat on the left side. You can also see that the offset plate is not mirrored – of course, it’s offset! And even the guy in the video says: «Its magic!»

Until now, the Webpage is limited to registrations of letterpress proof presses – but maybe soon be opened to studios/artists working with FAG flatbed offset proof presses…

Big Fag Prints at Wollongong City Gallery

prints at wollongong city gallery

Currently on show at Wollongong City Gallery are three works created on the Big Fag Press, as part of the Green Bans Art Walk project (2011).

They are showing as part of the Wollongong City Gallery’s exhibition commemorating 20 years of its artist in residence programme.

Details of the exhibition, which runs until 18 November, are here.

The two works on the left in the photo above are lithographic prints made from watercolours by Fiona MacDonald, produced after archival photographs of the Green Bans in Sydney in the 1970s.

On the right is an elegant map (front and back both exhibited!) produced collaboratively by Pat Armstrong from Big Fag, and Jo Holder from Cross Arts Projects, entitled Green Bans Civic Walking Map.

Find out more about these prints and the whole Green Bans Art Walk project over here.

Ivory Tower prints at the Big Fag

…a close-up of Louise’s Ivory Tower Newspaper…

This month we’re very proud of Louise Anderson, our “senior intern” here at the Big Fag.

Louise has been barrelling along to the triumphant conclusion of her honours year in Fashion Design at UTS.

In the process, she has taught herself offset printing, and launched a satirical campaign about the fashion and beauty industries.

In this blog post by Louise, you can follow along as she prints her paste-up “Ivory Tower” newspapers on the Big Fag. The papers are posted around the city, and a QR code embedded on them leads to this website.

Louise’s graduating student show at UTS has set up a pozible campaign to raise money for their event.

You can also follow Louise on Twitter.

Emily Floyd prints at the Big Fag

emily floyd with print

This month we were very pleased to host Melbourne artist Emily Floyd in our workshop.

Emily is an artist whose diverse projects intersect strongly with our interests at the Big Fag. Namely: utopian collectivism, information graphics and typography.

Working with Diego and Louise from Big Fag Press, Emily produced a remake of a leftist conference programme from Sydney in the 1980s. You can see more images of the print here.

The work is on show at Anna Schwarz Gallery, Sydney, from 6 October – 10 November 2012.

emily floyd print
Continue reading…

Green Bans Artist Book on Show

fiona macdonald image

Last year we worked with Fiona MacDonald to produce a gorgeous set of offset lithographic prints exploring the history of the Green Bans in Sydney.

Fiona has adapted some of these prints into a very limited edition artists book, which is on show right now at Grahame Galleries + Editions.

The book is called “Practical Democracy: A Jazz Send-Off”.
The exhibition is called “lessons in history vol. ii – democracy 2″

27 October – 15 December 2012
grahame galleries + editions
1 Fernberg Road
Milton, Brisbane, Qld. Australia 4064

About the work:

Concertina format made from cut down sections of print proofs made at the Big Fag Press, Woolloomooloo, about the Green Bans of the early 1970s as part of a 40th anniversary project. The proofs had used both sides of the paper as the edition was prepared and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to turn the two sides proofs into a book. Box board covers, concertina pages printed offset on Dutch etching paper. Text Geotype. 30.0 x 21.0 cm. Edition of 2.

Through Indian Eyes

Designer Ishan Khosla and embroiderer Sajnu Ben design the Sangam logo

Diego Bonetto from Big Fag Press will join an expert panel who will navigate a curious story about an Indian designer who arrives in Australia with the objective of reviving a dying craft.

Facilitated by film maker, television writer, on-air presenter, Nell Schofield.

Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
500 Harris Street Ultimo
1 November, 2012
6.30pm – 8pm (doors open from 6pm)
$15, $12 members

More information and bookings here

Continue reading…

Networked Printers

Dr Margie Borschke has written an article about the Big Fag Press and the Rizzeria for the Powerhouse Museum’s design website.

Here’s how she begins:

Technologies are often pitted against one another. Print, for instance, is often cast to play the role of the has-been, the also-ran, while digital and network technologies prepare for yet another close up. In this scenario any passion for printed matter tends to be disparaged as nostalgia or explained away as an analog response to the siren call of digital devices. But old technologies can be used in new ways and two artist-run presses in Sydney, Big Fag Press and the Rizzeria, offer an alternate account of print’s continued appeal in a networked era.

You can read the whole article here.

Big Fag Wins Big Prize

fremantle arts centre print award

Yeomans Project – a print series by veteran aussie conceptual artist Ian Milliss, and Big Fag Press co-director Lucas Ihlein, has won the 2012 Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award!

Above, you can see Lucas receiving a GIANT cheque from FAC director Jim Cathcart on behalf of the duo. (And a few more photos over here.)

(Lucas reports that he can now retire, having achieved his lifelong goal of “posing for a photograph with a giant cheque”…)

The set of prints was produced as part of a larger project investigating the work and influence of PA Yeomans – an important Australian agricultural innovator.

The prints were collaboratively designed by Ihlein and Milliss, and generated in the Big Fag workshop with prepress and printing contributions by Mickie Quick and Louise Anderson.

You can have a closer look at them over at our online store.

The 2012 judging panel consisted of Curator and art historian and President of Print Council of Australia, Akky van Ogtrop; Curator of Fremantle Arts Centre (FAC), artist and writer, Dr Ric Spencer; and artist, curator and writer, Julie Gough.

The judges said of Ihlein and Milliss’ entry:

In a tight layering of concept and research and through the process of offset lithography, the series references Land Art, commercial graphics, agricultural advertising and the history of topographical mapping.

Happily, the second prize was won by a buddy of the Big Fag, Ampersand Duck. Ampersand Duck is a letterpress outfit in Canberra, and the prize was for her delicious typographic work entitled Discontent.

As Ampersand quipped on the night, the real winner this year was obselete technology!

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