Hygienic Dress League debuts Future Distortion installation as part of Detroit Art Week

When you enter from the front of the new cocktail bar Bagley Central it is decidedly 2019, save for a few retro touches and drinks that are prepared with a care that can feel a bit anachronistic to some.

Through the door in the back, though, step through this portal and Detroit of 2019 seems to melt away. Tucked into the former production floor of what was once a small-scale distillery, the exhibition space’s walls are painted in a satin black with dark glossy floors that cast ominous energy upon the artwork here.

Bejeweled figures glisten and tinkle like gaudy anthropomorphized chandeliers as a religious icon looks on.

“What’s funny about this setting is it’s 2019 out there,” says conceptual artist Steve Coy, “and you’re in a bar, when all of a sudden you open this door and you’re in a future place.”

And he is right. The created space feels all at once dystopian and futuristic, but also unidentifiably out of time.

Future Distortion is the newest installation from Steve and Dorota Coy, the husband-and-wife team behind Hygienic Dress League. Their latest work is a part of the second annual Detroit Art Week, which runs until July 21 and features exhibition openings, open studio visits, and panel discussions.

The scale of the Detroit Art Week this year is expansive, with cultural institutions like the Detroit Public Library playing host to a number of films and events in their "Show Me Your Shelves" series as well as more than 150 artists like Ellen Rutt and her anticipated exhibition at the Eightfold collective and Billy Mark and his North End installation Wind.

The Hygienic Dress League has been a force in conceptual art in the city of Detroit for over a decade. Working with an aesthetic that can best be described as "blingy," their often gas mask clad and rhinestone-bedazzled figures have graced the sides of buildings, streets, and warehouses of the city in a way that has called attention to the built landscape.

Their work often poses questions of value and worth and overlays them upon a post-industrial environment. The name "Hygienic Dress League" itself is conceptual. In 2007 the duo formed as a corporation, HDL Corp., in an effort to use the organization as a medium of art commenting on consumption and materiality.

Featuring their largest sculpture to date, Future Distortion is the Detroit duo’s first hometown large-scale installation since Value Proposition, their immersive outdoor show last October at the former DTE plant Connors Creek on the east side. In their latest work, they build on some of the same themes concerning how and why we form values in relation to our built mental and physical environments.

“You come in here, you don’t know the year. You may or may not necessarily know if this is an art exhibition happening in the future, or it may be the interior of someone’s home or maybe a museum show that is about the past but still in the future, it’s set up like a gallery experience,” Steve says.

And a gallery it most certainly is, though not in an entirely conventional sense. The space’s setup is highly conceptual where the images created are ordered and apprehended in concert with an immersive soundtrack and lighting scheme that would feel right at home in the movie Blade Runner.

With its glamorous faux-jewel female figures and a massive red figure with antlers that tower 12 feet above, the exhibition can be a little unsettling — and that’s by design. “It’s little creepy when you think of this connection between man and nature,” says Steve. “It raises questions about what is this future relationship going to be like, but without pointing in one direction or the other, like what’s going to happen?”

Future Distortion, which opens Friday and runs through September on Saturdays and Sundays 6-10 p.m., is accessible through the front door of the bar at 2545 Bagley in southwest Detroit.

For more information on the artists and events of Detroit Art Week, go to detroitartweek.org.

Read more articles by Dan B. Jones.

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