ABC No Rio, a venerable arts and activism space in the Lower East Side, had been located in an abandoned tenement building at 156 Rivington Street since the early 1980s. In the 2000s, New York City sold the building and its land for a dollar on the condition that it renovate its building. Since then, the organization had raised funds and planned for a new building, designed by local architect Paul Castrucci.
In 2016, after its final art show, ABC No Rio left its space in 2016, and since then, the building has been demolished and the two-year construction project has yet to begin.
Although I went to a screening that a friend produced around 2003, I became a regular user around 2008 when I started using the print shop to make shirts for my softball teams. The learning curve was steep and over the years, a lot of what I learned about printing shirts follows the DIY, punk-rock approach to printing than what most screen printers do. For example, I have almost never used a conveyer belt dryer because I print with water-based inks. I can hang the shirts on a line and allow them to air dry and cure with a trouser press.
When ABC No Rio closed, a lot of the activities stopped or relocated to other spaces. The all-ages Saturday matinee punk/hardcore shows appeared to have ceased, but the zine library moved down the street to the Clemente Soto Velez on Suffolk Street. About a year ago, the print shop opened a location in a basement on Evergreen Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn. This is just a few miles from where I live—and not far from Megan’s apartment—in an area that resembles what the Lower East Side was like a generation ago.
Entering the new space is a bit more inviting than one at the old location. The Rivington Street location was a pretty intimidating. You’d first encounter a decrepit tenement building and would have to navigate up three flights of the creekyiest steps you’ve ever climbed. One friend who went with me remarked how he felt he was in an episode of Law and Order at the moment when someone discovers a dead body. The new space, on the other hand, is hard to miss from the street and has some inviting printed material.
Last night, I went to the space and found a lot of the old space had been imported to this new space. The light exposure unit from the old space was there, bearing the face of someone that looks like Iggy Pop. Also, because this print shop espouses the DIY ethos, books and bricks are used to press the artwork against the screen. Close observers who used the old space will recognize the Learning Windows NT 4 book and copies of the Manhattan Yellow Pages wrapped in packing tape.
Another familiar item was the the four-color press, which was seated among similar detritus that was a feature of the old space.
And since this is a print shop that runs on fees from users, they also printed shirts to sell.
Yes, I bought one.
I didn’t have anything to print or a screen to burn, but it was nice to say hi to the veteran volunteer Garry and a regular user, Hardcore Shawn, who has been learning from Garry and has embraced discharge printing as I have. There was, sadly, no sign of Ray or Soccoro, the other volunteers at the print shop. I will certainly be back when I do have something.
The ABC No Rio Print Shop in Exile is located at 519 Evergreen Avenue, in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and is open Thursdays from 6:00–11:00 PM. Get the early and bring cash.