[Image sourced from the Big Fag Press website]
I'll start with a little about the press itself. The artist collective named it the Big Fag Press because the actual machine is called a FAG 104 Offset Proof Press, and well, it's pretty big. These machines used to be used to check the quality of a print before the design went to mass printing, obviously with new technology in printing, these machines are pretty much obsolete for the commercial printing world, but if you take a look at the quality of a print properly made on one of these machines, trust me that no current system can take its place.
Anyway, so this machine was made in Switzerland and headed for the scrap metal yard in Australia when Lucas Ihlein, Mickie Quick, Diego Bonetto and Pat Armstrong bid on the machine a total of $50 and then spent several thousand transporting it! Being commerically "unviable", we use it for limited edition runs of artists' printing work (though we have done the odd packaging printing and a few other random things). The beauty lies in that the paper doesn't need to be put through rollers of any kind like contemporary printers, so you can print on virtually anything (even perspex) up to a B1 size format. We use things like fine watercolour Fabriano, Mohawk paper a lot, and have printed on recycled envirocare, gloss paper, matte, anything - it all depends on the project.
The Press basically works on the chemical reaction where water and oil separate. It's difficult to explain but basically we print one colour at a time off a metal plate which has been pre-prepared at Imagination Graphics. The plate is dampened, and the oil based ink is deposited on the image by ink rollers and then picked up by the rubber blanket and eventually rolled over paper-bed. Each colour is done separately, so most designs need pre-press colour separation work, as well as careful registration on the printing day.
[Photograph is mine]
During the Green Bans project, which was part of Sydney Design's Old is New theme, we even did some experimentation with Fiona McDonald on using old lithographic techniques and chemicals to prepare our own plates. It didn't work out for that project in the end, but I think it's definitely a future goal for the press.
[Photograph is mine]
Possibly the thing I've helped out with most is Lucas' Environment Audit - with some of the actual research in the MCA exhibition, as well as pre-press work and printing.
And, a few other things the Press has done in the past:
[All images are my photographs of artists' work at the Big Fag Press]
And here's a little piece I wrote on my experiences as an "intern":
An Unlikely “Internship”
Now, it’s not many people who can say they know how to and have helped change the blanket on a 4 tonne printing machine (that’s the weight of 8 cars). Actually, a year ago, I thought a blanket was just the rug I use on my bed. But now I know, large offset printing machines use rubber blankets to transport ink from rollers to paper. How did I come by this information? It’s an interesting story.
A while ago in my Fashion Design degree I decided I wanted to take a more artistic route and major in the visual communication/ printwork side of things, and I was told I needed to do an internship. The desire to be part of the artworld always having been somewhere there in my subconscious I seized the opportunity when Lucas Ihlein by chance gave a lecture in a class I was taking, told him I was inspired by his presentation and would he mind if a wannabe artist hung around him for a while. At this point I had no idea he was part of a collective at the Big Fag Press, and that suddenly my degree and my artist dreams would veer down the same path.
Being an “intern” (yes I still do the “_” hand movements when I say this outloud) with a group of artists is very different to what I’ve experienced in the world of fashion where I remember steaming dresses all day long. I could have been the coffee kart chick at a larger magazine company that couldn’t afford to let an amateur like me do any actual work, instead I’ve been welcomed into a small business almost at the point where it’s just got off the ground, making artist contact one after the other and being allowed and thanked to be an integral part of every process from admin, to running the machine, to event organisation and documentation and digital design work. I even got to use my patternmaking and sewing skills to make a cover to fit the press!
I’ve met and worked with artists Michael Stevenson, Jason Wing, Kate Sweetapple, Keg de Souza, Ian Milliss, Fiona McDonald, and many more, not to mention collaborating with Artspace, the MCA, Fremantle Arts Centre, The CrossArt Projects, Firstdraft Gallery and Performance Space, The Paper Mill and of course Mickie Quick, Diego Bonetto and Pat Armstrong. Lucas even paid for a workshop I attended at the Rizzeria. Our big project last year Green Bans Art Walks saw me designing the project logo and T-shirt, and one of my photographs of the event ended up by chance in the City News newspaper which subsequently got me a few freelance photography jobs.
I’m on the brink of being able to run the Big Fag Press by myself (apart from perhaps the weight of some of the parts!), and I’ve learnt so much, as well as being able to consolidate skills I already had in photography and digital design. The opportunities I’ve encountered, not to mention the mentoring, inspiration and (dare I say) friendships I’ve made have been invaluable to me. I’m currently simultaneously doing a few of my own prints on the press, and beginning my final year and major work for my degree, altogether happy to have ended up at this point, in a place I feel I’ve helped, and has helped me.
[Photograph taken by Lucas Ihlein on my camera]