REOPENING MUSEUM PLANTIN-MORETUS
End September 2016, the Museum Plantin-Moretus has been reopened after some months of renovations. It is the first museum ever on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and 63% of all heritage value in Antwerp is located between these walls.
The museum is situated in the historical printhouse and residence of the families Plantin and Moretus. While Gutenberg was the first to work with movable type to print books, Plantin was the biggest publisher, trader of books and protagonist towards the democratization of knowledge at that time. During the 16th and 17th century, his books spread all over Europe, and even set foot in the Americas. Today, the two oldest printing presses in the world can be found at the Museum Plantin-Moretus, together with more than 20.000 lead letters, 30.000 old books, illustrated manuscripts and gems of European printing. You can visit the old residencies, and go through the different steps of the printing process, from carved letter to printed text.
Almost everybody in and around Antwerp has visited the museum as a kid in school, but until the recent reopening it had quite a ‘dusty’ character. During the summer of 2016, the whole museum underwent a metamorphosis: a new reading room was built and the whole visitor experience was redesigned.
To gain more publicity for the reopening, and to attract a broader audience, the museum invited Kastaar for a collaboration. Kastaar is an ‘analog printing factory’ in Antwerp, founded by graphic designers An Eisendrath and Stoffel Van den Bergh. The limitations of slow printing, combined with contemporary techniques and insights, keep on challenging kastaar to rethink the design process. Kastaar is more than a print shop: it is a bold playground for graphic experimentation and collaboration. Embracing the past, while focusing on the future.
They came up with the idea to build two mobile printing bikes; one with a proofing press, one with a tabletop hand press. They took to the streets, and pedaled to some of the biggest events and liveliest places in and around the city. Cultural markets, Flemish Heritage day, popular parks on sunny days, … Because “if you cannot visit the museum, the museum will come to you”.
Kastaar offered people the opportunity to print their own poster or card with wood type on the mobile presses. On the proofing press, they changed the words/sentence according to the event. On the hand press, people could print a letter of their name on an A6 card. At the same time, the posters and cards functioned as excellent tools for promotion, since all information regarding the big reopening of the museum was in the footer of the poster and on the back of the card.
For a lot of children, these mobile printing bikes were a first hands-on encounter with print, typography & graphic design. And boy, did they love it. While they were at it, Stoffel and An could give more background information about the museum and the reopening. But also a lot of elderly people stopped by, mesmerized by the printing machinery, and reminiscing the days when they used to work as a printer themselves. They saw that Kastaar was doing good work with these old presses, and again, some people offered them printing machinery and old type they still had at home.
Apart from the printing bikes, Kastaar was invited as ‘artist in residence’ during the first 6 months after the reopening, to breathe new life into the museum shop. Because Stoffel and An are both graphic designer and printer, just like Plantin was in his days, they were asked to produce a new ‘product range’ for the Museum Shop. They were also invited to re-arrange the setup of the Museum Shop, install a small workshop, and really make their mark on the whole space.
They were given access to the archives containing the original 16th century woodblock illustrations: thousands and thousands of wonderful hand cut printing blocks that were used in the books of Plantin and Moretus. Botanical prints, (sometimes weird) animals, monograms, religious prints, a lot of letters, …They made a selection of some of the nicest illustrations they wanted to work with, and they combined these 16th century illustrations into new 21st century designs.
They then printed these designs with their own Heidelberg presses on different kinds of high quality paper. The result is now for sale in the Museumshop of Plantin-Moretus.