Fall Arts Issue
The Hygienic Dress League reinvents street art by mocking advertising — and more ...
Published: September 14, 2011
MT: Three characters pop up in your work. What can you tell us about them?
Steve: Those are our boardroom employees — the Executives — they have the plan laid out on the board room table. Meanwhile the Extractors are out chasing pigeons, to turn them into gold. Transporters are the ultimate middlemen.
MT: Pigeons are heavily utilized by the HDL designs.
Steve: Like any corporation, we were looking for identity so we needed a logo. Pigeons are pretty common in street art, and just as birds they aren't thought of as being at all intelligent or clean. We were riffing on urban wildlife to an extent. I mean, we see them everywhere around Detroit.
Dorota: It's the urban bird.
MT: Another theme is gold; gallons of metallic spray-paint gold. What's the infatuation?
Dorota: Gold has been a part of the project from the very beginning — it brings to mind price, cost and value.
Steve: But it's a false sense of value, right? Really it's this shitty fake coating of gold on a pigeon or something. We're always commenting on value. We often utilize a pattern that's very much inspired by Louis Vuitton, because — is a Vuitton bag valuable because of the way the company presents itself?
MT: And what does hygiene have to do with the concept?
Steve: We were reading this obscure dada text from the '20s all about dress reform, something about being anti-corset. We came across this paragraph about this dress reform group called the Hygienic Dress League but not much else was mentioned about it. We loved the name. The response we want to elicit by using the name is "What the hell is that?" Because that's what our reaction was.
MT: How long were you in Detroit before your art popped up?
Steve: For our first big one, we contacted the city and said we wanted to do a mural on the GAR Building [Grand Army of the Republic building, built in 1897, known as the Castle], which was covered in half-torn posters and tags. They were like, "Yeah, go ahead, do whatever, we don't care, just sign this waiver saying that if you get hurt we're not responsible." That was it. We got out there the next morning and finished three days later. It stayed up for two years and got some real attention that allowed us to use it as a reference and motivation to make more murals. The GAR, including our mural, had gotten tagged pretty hard. ... It got painted over in beige. It's been beige ever since. ...
MT: Is the attention your art wins a carefully considered byproduct?
Dorota: It's not our priority. We don't choose any certain building because we feel attention needs to be brought to it.
Steve: Location is considered; we try to draw meaning from it. Our "No Vacancy" sign we affixed to an abandoned hotel. ... We want to bring attention to the buildings in that maybe someone will see the possibility of the space.
Dorota: But by no means do we think that we're saving all these buildings.
MT: How do you vet your locations?
Steve: We want high-traffic, high-profile locations. We want to catch people completely dialed into Detroit looking for the next street piece, and also the attention of the dude who comes downtown for a Tigers game. The idea is that you can engage in the project on as many levels as you want. You can see a piece and think, "That's stupid" or "I don't get it" or "What the heck is this thing?" or you can do an Internet search for Hygienic Dress League and learn more about the project. All of it adds to the narrative.
MT: How long does it take to get a piece up?
Steve: Larger ones can take up to a week, but that doesn't account for the time it took to do all the prep work in the studio. ... We always try to get permission. We want to try and change the perception of street art as vandalism, and transcend the traditional spray-paint, stencil, tag format.
MT: When you travel, does HDL travel? Or are you found only in Detroit?
Dorota: How are we going to answer this?
> Email Travis R. Wright