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Manhole Designs Leave an Impression

Friday, September 29, 2017

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A Berlin-based artist is elevating the lowly manhole cover to new levels as a hip piece of apparel that allows the wearer to rep a favorite city or neighborhood (or sewer authority).

The project, known as Raubdruckerin, German for "pirate printers," is a printmaking venture that incorporates elements of urban spaces such as train tracks and grids into everyday fashion. This streetwear comes to life by applying an eco-friendly ink to the surface of an object and making the print onsite, allowing passersby to be part of the process.

The Project

Created in Portugal, originally under the name Estampatampa, the process was developed in 2006 by Emma-France Raff in collaboration with her father, painter Johannes Kohlrusch. That same year, the father-daughter team presented their first creations at the Musicas do Mundo festival, located in the town of Sines.
It wasn't until 2008, in Berlin, that Raff began using local manhole covers to make the prints.

In making the prints onsite, in a public space, Raff—and the occasional friendly helping hand—takes textile printing to a more human, dynamic level by engaging passersby. The project implements a kind of relief printing and using objects in ways beyond their intended capacity (like using manhole covers as printing templates). This method eliminates the need for printing plates or screens, which reduces the consumption of resources, an ideal that lies at the heart of Raubdruckerin.

The ink used is water-based and 100 percent free of petrol, and the products themselves—T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts and tote bags, to name a few—are all made from certified organic cotton. The hoodies, the company notes, contain recycled polyester, and are also fair traded.

Printmaking Places

Though many of Raubdruckerin’s pieces come from local Berlin spaces, the project has traveled to 10 different sites, including Amsterdam, Paris and Barcelona, to name a few. Raff intends to make prints all across Europe, and dreams about taking the project across the globe.

Though many products are sold out, current offerings range from prints made with the manhole covers of Berliner Wasserbetriebe, the local water company, which displays some of Berlin’s most famous landmarks, to the manhole cover from the Neukoelln neighborhood of Berlin, which has a geometric pattern and the name of the neighborhood, making it one of the most hip selections.

Raff hosts street printing workshops at events and festivals, encouraging engagement from people of all ages and walks of life. According to the website, a DIY ink kit for purchase is also in the works.


Tagged categories: Color + Design; Design; Manholes; Sewer systems

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