Interview: Craft and Concept

Craft and Concept is a collaborative group of artists based in Kansas City, MO with a  mission statement that emphasizes “traditions, materials, and practices” and includes building their own presses and engaging the public . The three founding members of C&C, Jesse McAfee, Zach Springer, and Will Burnip, met while studying at the Kansas City Art Institute. They agreed to answer some questions about their ongoing project, The Print Factory.

Can you talk a bit about how  you came together and how KCAI, Kansas City, and the Midwest have influenced the project? Are there more people involved or just you three?

The Print Factory was started at the KCAI woodshop, which we all three frequented. we started to coalesce as a group and began to discuss how the machine would function beyond a means to simply yield prints on paper, even while the first press was still being made. We’ve found the art scene(s) of the Midwest to be very open for collaboration, particularly Kansas City, but also other cities in the region have been inviting and welcoming to untraditional forms of art-making. We’ve been involved with numerous start-up organizations that work to foster art and as Kansas City continues to establish itself as a kind of art nexus, there’s always a new gallery space popping up. More and more we are inviting artists to make posters for opening events or similar gatherings. The art districts are very accessible for working and studying artists who may be more geared towards making the art an experience rather than exclusively showing an end product. Both of these things have made The Print Factory a collaborative and continually changing effort. At first the project was operated primarily by the three of us and the artists that we were promoting. Now we have more members, and many more artists that we work with who also help prepare for events and come out to print on site with us. So on some outings the artist is there to talk with the public about their work and develop new contacts.

The Print Factory is C&C’s mobile printing project. The group have built their own printing presses from scratch and do various workshops around the country. What goes on at a Print Factory workshop?

We operate our handmade presses out in the public while giving away the prints we are making for free. The essence of a Print Factory event is to intervene in the normal traffic flow of any space, usually positioning ourselves in a location that might not often see art or the kind of activity The Print Factory brings. People end up surrounding the press, looking at what we are doing and listening to the explanation of how it works. The prints dry on a string line and hang by clothespins for the audience to look and choose what image they want to take home with them. We apply ink to the blocks on a nearby stand and invite people to crank a block through the press themselves. We have multiple press types now, including designs with a heavier emphasis on self-containment and portability. All of the images have been provided by the artists we promote, who can be local to the site we are printing at or from across the country.

 

This is kind of a generic question but what inspired the project? Did it start with an interest in printing, a technical inclination toward building functional things, or something else entirely?

The project started with an interest in what movable type and the Gutenberg press did for society. It was an interest in a machine that
revolutionized information dispersal. We began to look more into the history leading up to Gutenberg’s contributions and the story of how it came together. Basically, we want to remind people of the technology that made information easier to access. While we were just beginning to understand what Gutenberg’s role was in mass printing, Jesse came acquired unfinished blueprints for a wooden press. For economic reasons we made the press small, and then realized that we could make a mobile printing studio. Will determined the necessary supplies and Zach built a hand truck to tote the press and all the consumables and accessories. This is where the collaborative and collective aspect really makes the Factory accessible to so many different audiences. Each of us had a  different focus and insight into the building, printing, and social aspects to our project. While everyone had different reasons for being a part of the project, we were focused on providing art to those who might not have art in their lives through the technology that  brought us the multiple.

The fact that the presses are handmade seems like a crucial part of the project’s identity. Can you speak to that at all? Do offer plans to help people to build their own presses? Having built a few, what advice do you have for someone trying to build their own?

The handmade nature of the presses is a definite hook for some folks. Even if they may not be especially interested in the free art aspect, we often talk to people at length about how we designed, crafted, and ornamented the presses. We have built a press on consignment and have hosted a weekend workshop where we crafted a press with a family. We do offer blueprints for making your own press at www.craftandconcept.com. For anyone interested in making their own press, you should determine which type of press is best for the kind of print you want to make. After you know that, you need to find pre-made plans or make a design based off the actual model want. When we built our first press, we had working presses in the nearby printmaking studio that we used to inform our decision-making.

As a project, the Print Factory seems more about community and activity than finished product (i.e. prints). Would you agree? Why?

The prints drying on the string lines we install act as a way of sparking interest in the passer-by to what we are doing. So the print is what first draws people to the press, and it is what they take away to remember the experience. Having a print with the artist’s name, they can potentially follow the artist. During the interaction with the crowd, many ask about how to build a press or make their own prints. We feel that the strongest element of The Print Factory is  demonstrating how the act of distribution empowers and informs individuals. The community engages the project through acquiring a piece of free art, and having a reminder of the utility of art. It is pulling back a curtain on the process and allowing people to become part of the process that makes The Print Factory what it is today. If we were just a booth on the street offering free prints,  it would have neither  the same intention or response.

Who is your audience? You’ve done workshops at the Center for Book Arts (New York, NY), the Portland Art Museum (Portland, OR) and at least half a dozen venues closer to home. Do you feel that audience reception to the project changes as you move throughout the country?

Although we haven’t  traveled enough to determine that with any specificity, our audience certainly changes depending on the kind of venue where we print. In our experience, it is the venue which determines the audience reaction. Printing at an art gallery or museum generally has people more familiar with the printmaking process, but are curious why we are giving art away. Printing at a music festival or Day of the Dead celebration finds an unsuspecting audience with a different kind of interest. When someone who does not know how a printing press works gets to see one in action, there is a real moment of discovery. We are bringing the process to the forefront and drawing the art owner into how the images they enjoy were crafted and produced. Some people take a print  and leave soon after, and others stay to learn about what is going on and why we are there.

In the last few years, there have been a number of mobile print ventures- Drive-by Press and La Mano Press come immediately to mind. Do know some of these other print nomads? Why do you think so many print artists are taking their show on the road?

We do not know these other printing nomads, although artists in general are trying to participate more in their communities. We think it goes back to showing people the process behind how the print is made. Showing the new art collectors how a print is made helps them appreciate the labor an artist put into the image, and gives everyone an idea of the labor it took to make newspapers and the like. This seems to be what all the roaming printmakers’ operations share. We are inviting the public to take part in making the art they collect. Traditional printmaking requires a dedicated facility, a space reserved to keep papers and inks clean. This stationary and restrictive environment is probably why most forms of printmaking aren’t in the collective consciousness of the public.

Therefore by taking it outside and bringing it to them, we can expose the processes of printing without the complexities of shop formality. We are trying to convey the fundamental principles printing was its own revolution. Printmaking’s inherent advantage of reproduction and democratic spirit make it a tool that society absolutely needed to move forward, and we think that is something people should see.

The DIY movement is intertwined with a number of other trends like sustainability, community-supported agriculture, etc. What kind of non-art projects do you look at for inspiration or think of as peer projects?

We draw from initiatives like volunteer-run bicycle collectives that provide parts and service as well as sharing knowledge of maintenance for free and Solar Cookers International , an organization that provides means to construct solar ovens with inexpensive materials . We also participate in MAKE magazine’s Maker Faires, where we have met groups like Open Source Ecology with their Global Village Construction Set. The cross-disciplinary nature of these type of groups are what we have in common, as well as the wish to bring a sense of empowerment through art and the freedom of information.


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Categories: Interviews


One Response to “Interview: Craft and Concept”

  1. Marty says:

    Inspiring, knowledgable, and visionary! thanks for taking prints to the people!