I came this close to buying a Print Gocco system a few months back. I drove to a residential address in an unfamiliar suburb and patted the RISO representative’s large dog as she demonstrated the system on top of her ping-pong table. I was hopeful, but I guess I already knew that letterpress had ruined Gocco for me.
But I was desperate! My letterpress equipment was (and is) in storage, and a friend needed a special invitation pronto!
Don’t get me wrong: I love Gocco, and recently bought Nest Studio cards that I’m guessing are printed this way. I begged my mother for one after a demonstration in a department store sometime in the early 1980’s*. But I’ve become accustomed to examining the impression of type through a loupe, being able to register with precision and having the freedom to print up to poster-size. I knew I’d quickly become frustrated by the Gocco’s limitations. Which was lucky, I guess, since it seems that Print Gocco is to be discontinued, unless we're able to rescue it from obsolescence.
Gocco’s demise is familiar, really, from a letterpress person’s perspective. Like many technologies, the obsolescence of letterpress opened it up to print and book artists. Older fine press people talk of the 70’s as a golden period in which you could drive up to any print shop in town and they would load in their letterpress equipment for you. An equipment dealer outside of Cleveland told me once how even five years ago he was regularly incinerating old type cases and cabinets because he couldn’t get rid of them. Now good presses sell at a premium, even proof presses, a kind of press that was never used for production runs. Scarcity increases value, but value isn’t just in the physical objects themselves: it’s in the whole culture of a craft, the specific, precise language of a trade, in craftsmanship honed by daily work. We’re quickly losing the tools of many crafts, but quicker still is the loss of the skills required to use these tools proficiently. There’s many a printer turning in his grave at the thought of girlprinter eating her cereal at the feed board of her C&P. More than one old-timer has looked at my work and asked in all sincerity: who buys this?
Gocco, however, is a toy, which perhaps is its problem. Toys are expendable, and the toy business is a fickle market. Gocco’s had a good run: over 25 years in Japan, less elsewhere. Kids may have moved on from Gocco, but artists haven’t. In the event that RISO does discontinue the system and another commercial supplier doesn’t step into the breach, artists have to figure out a way to keep Gocco alive by working out how to produce their own screens, by adapting other bulbs and experimenting with non-proprietary inks. It’s screenprinting, after all. If Gocco does die, we’ll lose the convenience of the system, but the aesthetic will live on, and as letterpress has shown, a whole new culture will develop around the piercing together of tools and resources. Re-inventing the wheel has it’s own pleasures, and there’s the always the possibility of a better wheel right around the corner.
* This must have been during an early attempt to introduce Gocco into the Australian market. I remember a tiered display of the machines, and mounting serious argument as to why I must own one. I think the cost of the consumables killed my campaign pretty quickly. Years later, after I’d forgotten ever wanting one, Mum sent me money earmarked for a Gocco. It seems that she’d felt a little guilty that she may have hampered my typographic career by not caving in and buying me one all those years ago. But I didn’t buy a Gocco, deciding instead to put the money toward my first letterpress.