Fall Arts Issue
The Hygienic Dress League reinvents street art by mocking advertising — and more ...
Published: September 14, 2011
Based in Detroit's Eastern Market, a district half-flourishing with creative spirit and bootstrap entrepreneurship, you'll find the Hygienic Dress League, a legally registered corporation whose sole product is the promotion of ... the Hygienic Dress League.
There are three levels of Hygienic employees: Extractors sit on the lowest end of the totem pole, followed by mid-level management Transporters, and at the top we find the Executives. Each has its own uniform, from hazmat suit to boardroom wear. All employees cover their eyes, noses, mouths and hands in gold. And the pigeon is their sacred fowl.
Maybe you've seen their "billboards" around town, or the "No Vacancy" neon sign atop the dilapidated Roosevelt Hotel in Corktown.
Maybe you've no clue what I'm talking about.
You see, the Hygienic Dress League is the brainchild of artists Dorota and Steve Coy.
Steve Coy, 32, grew up in and around metro Detroit's northern suburbs; when he turned 18, he busted for Australia, then California, and finally Hawaii. Dorota, 32, was born in Poland; in her teens her parents moved the family to upstate New York. She bounced around from Vermont to Philadelphia, California and Hawaii.
In 2007, the two set up shop in downtown Detroit.
Soon Steve and Dorota started to blur the line of high- and low-brow art, bridging these communities in Detroit using "billboards" featuring stencil spray-painted "employees" as metaphors to comment on the tiers of class structure, but for many passers-by their work seems to be legitimately commercial, a promotion for a boutique that'll never open. Hell, the painting might not last weeks. But it might last two years.
The work is decidedly clever and playfully confusing. Sexy, highly designed, engaging and perhaps primed for the global stage.
Coming off a week that saw the Hygienic Dress League pop up outside of Detroit for the first time while they (or at least their fictitious employees) were featured in a gallery exhibition in town, we sat down in their Eastern Market workspace to get the lowdown on what brought them to Detroit, prodding them to dissect their design — including augmented reality art experiences. What is that, you ask? Keep reading.
Metro Times: Hygienic Dress League is really you two. How was it formed?
Dorota Coy: We met in Hawaii in 2006. Steve was getting his master's. He's an artist. All of our friends were too.
Steve Coy: In Hawaii, the Hygienic Dress League was a group of six or seven artist friends. We formed to put on a show that examined the lengths people will go to present themselves in certain ways. We were largely commenting on fashion. We made the gallery — Arts at Mark's Garage — look like a boutique. I don't know if it was because we advertised that models would be at the show, but I don't know how many thousands of people came. The models were part of the performative aspect — the idea was to reflect how corporations conceive brand identity.
MT: Why Detroit?
Steve: We moved to Detroit for the reasons lots of people are moving here. It's less expensive, and there are real opportunities for artists.
MT: What was your first trip around the city together like?
Steve: It was 2007, we're driving around Detroit and Dorota was crying, like, "This is where I'm going to live?" Seeing it through her eyes was something else.
Dorota: It literally looked like there had recently been a war in Detroit. I was like, "Where's this cute little neighborhood with brownstones that we're going to live in?" I was still carrying that idea. ... Steve said I should just give it a little time and see how I liked it. And of course I love it. We're not going anywhere.
MT: Is your studio in Eastern Market's Atlas Building the first place you found?
Steve: Yes, and it's an amazing space. It had real history. There were artists in here throughout the '60s. It's been a notorious place for artists and still is. Derrick May is our neighbor, so are Greg Holm, Jocelyn Rainey, Rebecca Mazzei, and the Cyber Optix Tie Lab is right below us.
MT: What was your plan when you moved to Detroit?
Steve: The idea was to create a corporation whose sole mission is to promote itself. We thought of this hilarious conceptual art project and just started running wild with the ideas of all we could do in the framework as "corporation as art medium," because there's so many things that corporations do that we could follow. ... In the name of art, not profit.
> Email Travis R. Wright