Risolana—Albuquerque’s only risograph studio that’s set to open an exhibition by debut artist-in-residence Lena Kassicieh—builds knowledge-sharing connections and shares stories through printed books, posters, and more.
ALBUQUERQUE—Lena Kassicieh—the first artist in residence at Risolana, a community risograph studio in Albuquerque’s South Valley—describes sharing the book born from her residency, Gifts I Didn’t Know Were Gifts, with a family friend. With the book, Kassicieh, a Palestinian-American multi-disciplinary artist and anthropologist, wanted to share “the story of Palestinians as I know it,” a warm, narrative-rich reality more profound than any news headline. After the friend put down the book, she told Kassicieh, “You made me nostalgic for a time that I didn’t even know existed.”
Gifts I Didn’t Know Were Gifts is full of oral histories—funny and poignant—passed down through Kassicieh’s family. The stories are accompanied by illustrations, photographs, idioms, and elegant handwritten Arabic (some Kassicieh’s, some her family’s) layered over inherited fabrics and brightly colored paper. The book represents both an “index of experience put on a page,” as Risolana co-founder Michael López put it, and as Kassicieh herself says in the foreword, an act of “memory building.”
Contemporary art is largely idea-driven and “to fully flesh out a concept, there often needs to be a narrative behind it—that’s the way I like to think and teach,” says Karl Orozco, who co-founded Risolana in summer 2021 with López. “That’s a process that I find interesting and excites me as an artist—and risograph is a tool to get people to think like that.”
Exchange—through storytelling, amplification of concept, putting it all on the page and out into the world—is foundational to Risolana. The risograph medium, which was created as a tool for offices, churches, and schools, was built for utility. As such, newsletters, flyers, or anything you might need to print fifty to 1,000 copies in a matter of minutes have long been serviced through the risograph. López endearingly recalls admiring the halftones of the risograph-printed green trifolds handed out at weekly church services when he was growing up.
Functionally, riso is something like a cross between silk screening and photocopying, where only one color is laid down at a time. The more shades a print requires, the more times it must pass through the machine. Master files can be generated analog or digitally—though digital processes are more common and offer greater possibility. The end product is a style in and of itself, with impossible-to-imitate colors and textures. The inherent qualities of risograph lend themselves well to work like Kassicieh’s book, each page possessing a vintage patina, emulsifying the present and the past.
Riso’s lo-fi efficiency also makes it well suited for activism, community dialogue, and art that’s responsive to the moment and evolving needs. Meanwhile, la resolana, a play on which gives the studio its name, is the distinctly New Mexican concept of a public gathering place in the warmth of a south-facing wall, a site for reflection, and knowledge sharing.
“Riso provides a lot of ways for people to connect with one another,” says Orozco. “Accessibility, education, community building: those are the three lanes that risograph is really well suited for. And because we’re the only one in Albuquerque, we wanted to be all three.” To serve that goal, Risolana hosts monthly “30 Under 30” print nights that offer education and the opportunity to work with the machine in thirty-minute slots (hosted on the thirtieth of every month). The space also facilitates workshops, collaborates with local artists and nonprofits, and stewards the burgeoning residency program with hands-on support from studio manager Carlos Gabaldon.
Risographs in brilliant orange and deep blue—cut through with shocks of yellow or layered in shades of gray—line the walls of Risolana. The show posters and proofs, experiments and photographs, are undeniably precious, yet tow a line between bespoke item and dime-a-dozen ubiquity. “Because of the medium, the value of it is embedded in the experience of making it, the sharing of stories,” López says. “It’s this unique thing that riso pushes back on—it’s only as good as what’s on the page. Its value is based on if people connect to it.”
Risolana is leaning into the parts of art-making that for many are the most meaningful—the revelation of new processes and experiences, the sharing of stories, and the chance to forge connections along the way. It provides the opportunity to hold in one’s hands memories like Kassicieh’s and feel connected to a time and a place now distant.
“We want to pull back the curtain. We want people to get their hands on the machine,” López says. “There’s an opportunity to share space, storytell, experiment, where learning and sharing take place. We want that depth.”
Lena Kassicieh’s exhibition Gifts I Didn’t Know Were Gifts opens at fourteenfifteen gallery’s Alpaca space, 1415 Fourth Street NW, Albuquerque, on Friday, November 11, 2022, with a reception from 6-9 pm; the show runs through Friday, December 2. Books will be available for purchase. Kassicieh will also teach a free interactive risograph workshop at Risolana, located within the Partnership for Community Action Social Enterprise Center at 722 Isleta Boulevard SW, Albuquerque, on Saturday, November 19. Contact email@example.com for more details.