The history of Aesthetic Apparatus

Mpls.’ famed screen-printing duo celebrate their 10+1-year anniversary with a showcase of their prints and artifacts.

by Rebecca Lang

WHAT: AAXI: A Decade of Aesthetic Apparatus, One Year Late WHEN: Reception, May 28, 6 p.m. âÄî 8 p.m. Exhibit runs May 28 âÄî June 27 WHERE: Minneapolis College of Art + Design, 2501 Stevens Ave., Mpls. Whether you knew it or not, youâÄôve seen screen printing duo Aesthetic ApparatusâÄô work at some point in your Twin Cities adventures. The Triple Rock Social ClubâÄôs logo, the psychedelic monsters on the wall of The 501 Club, gig posters for The Dead Weather or Tapes âÄòn Tapes âÄî all of these were cranked out for your viewing pleasure courtesy of artists Dan Ibarra and Michael Byzewski. After eight years of inhabiting the Land of Lakes, AA has garnered a devoted flock of fans, and is at the helm of the growing screen printing scene in Minneapolis. To commemorate their ink-smudged history, the duo is holding an exhibit that showcases artifacts from their scribbled one-page business plan to a squeegee complete with well-worn thumb grooves. Their studio is tucked into an industrial corner of the Seward neighborhood and marked by a giant red circle painted on its white exterior. At the time of the interview, Ibarra was eating a stacked Jimmy JohnâÄôs sandwich, which he pointed out was ironic considering he used to be the main designer for Jimmy JohnâÄôs back before AA started up. âÄúWhenever thereâÄôs a press event, Dan starts eating Jimmy JohnâÄôs,âÄù joked Byzewski. Jimmy JohnâÄôs was one of their many clients at Madison, WisconsinâÄôs Planet Design Company, now called Planet Propaganda, the âÄúbig fish in small waterâÄù design firm where the two initially met. After working long hours on software, Ibarra and Byzewski got into the habit of relaxing by screen printing late into the night. âÄúIt was a nice way to get away from the computer,âÄù Ibarra explained, âÄúI preferred the physicality of it and being able to touch it and feel it. If something screws up, itâÄôs not because I donâÄôt have the right installer; itâÄôs because I put my finger in it. That analog process is much more fun than the digital one.âÄù One of their first clients that came in early 2002 was Dan McCrea from the âÄô90s rock band Cake, and after that they garnered so much attention that they set up shop in Minneapolis later that year. The Twin Cities seemed a natural fit not only because of family ties nearby but also because its concert poster scene wasnâÄôt as staked out as the flourishing scene in Chicago. Their first studio was on First Avenue in the space where the OM restaurant currently resides. In its glory days, they explained, the building housed artists who could operate in a totally unrestricted manner, counting Scott Seekins among the inhabitants. At one point the duo recorded a âÄúscream printâÄù video that demonstrated screen printing techniques while they screamed throughout the entire production, gaining nary a landlord complaint. Eventually the building was sold to a less Bohemian owner and they moved to Seward, where they enjoy their quiet new location for its proximity to the Midtown Greenway and the light rail. Fans are welcome to stop by the sprawling space and page through boxes of prints and gaze at their floor-to-ceiling drying racks. Screen printing is a different beast altogether since AA started up, morphing from a relative rarity to a practice so popular that, as Byzewski put it, âÄúpeople are fighting to do it for free.âÄù âÄúIt has a lot to do with the online community,âÄù Ibarra explained. âÄúIt has helped to promote the idea of a screen-printed poster as an art form or even a culture.âÄù Additionally, sites like Gig Posters and Flat Stock have helped spread the popularity of the medium. Some of their favorite local screen printers are a married duo who work under the names Miss Amy Jo and TOOTH, as well as Burlesque of North America, Adam Turman and fellow duo Landland. Despite staking out the same artistic turf, AA hasnâÄôt had problems with what they refer to as âÄúbackstabbingâÄù from other poster artists. Instead, the local community supports one another and admires everyoneâÄôs unique efforts. âÄúYouâÄôd think that we would be competing,âÄù Ibarra said. âÄúEither weâÄôve all magically found our own categories of art or maybe thereâÄôs something awesome about being poster artists that makes you supportive of people.âÄù