Manhole covers as wearable-art? We’ve often admired the design of manhole covers but never thought to use them as printing templates. A Berlin-based pirate printer is using city surfaces as stamps to print bags and t-shirts. This idea is so creative we absolutely love it! Read on for the story.
The pirate printer is raubdruckerin, a printmaking project run by Emma-France Raff. She developed the idea when she was living with her father, painter Johannes Kohlrusch, in his studio in rural Portugal. They started experimenting and presented their first work at the Festival “Musicas do Mundo” in 2006.
Emma moved back to Berlin and continued her pirate printer work with the local manhole covers there. Most of the raubdruckerin prints are local, but she, her teammate, and friends have now done prints in Barcelona, Roma, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Paris and beyond!
raubdruckerin means female pirate printer. It’s like reverse street art. Rather than putting something into the space, they capture the essence of the city from often overlooked details on the pavement. The pieces are all printed on-site using eco-friendly inks. The manhole covers become the printing templates, with no other print screens or presses used.
The prints are not drawn by me. I just put them into a new context. They are from surfaces of the streets, from cement surfaces and grids of manhole covers. I transfer them to T-shirts and other things and they’re given a new life. That’s why it’s called raubdruckerin, because the designs are lifted from manhole covers.
The surfaces of urban landscapes are often unobserved, but full of history and creativity. For example, Barcelona has beautiful concrete pavement tiles called “Panots”. In 1916 the city of Barcelona held a competition to design the panots. The long-established company Escofet won and produced 5 different panots. These designs are considered well-established signs of the local urban culture. Shown here is motif N°563 or “el rombo rodeado de cuatro círculos” (the rhombus surrounded by four circles).
raubdruckerin are always on the lookout for printable surfaces to use for their pirate printing collections. Whenever Emma travels, half of her luggage is printing materials! She dreams of doing a ‘Grand Tour’ through Europe and also to travel through Japan, which is known for having the most extravagant manhole covers in the world.