Aluminium Menagerie Makes an Environmental Statement

Artists often make a social statement with their work. In Detroit, they're using aluminium to do it.
7 February, 2017
The Hygienic Dress League (HDL) has a presence in cities as diverse as Cleveland in the United States and Madrid in Spain.
The HDL's wide-ranging work includes everything from sustainable urban design solutions to pop-up mural art around downtown in cities around the world, but Steve and Dorota Coy, the married couple behind the public art, call the city of Detroit home.

It was in Detroit that, on a cold night in December, they tooled around town in a van to drop off aluminium animals, along with a documentary crew to film and photograph the street art experience.
The animals – a flock of geese crossing the road, or deer literally caught in the headlights of downtown traffic – were all made out of molded aluminium and then coated in a paint that was meant to deliver a greenish hue. They were placed on sidewalks, in roadways and in front of down-on-their-luck storefront ministries, all to call attention to HDL's borderline-radical mission of putting people and planet first.
The glowing deer visible inside an abandoned and dilapidated old building were meant to call attention to the "People First Project," a collaborative idea with significant local-foundation funding that relies on tactical urbanism principles to help create communities that are more connected and more resilient.

"We're trying to do something that has never been done before," Steve Coy said in a 2014 interview. "It rides the line between serious and satire."
The HDL team and the global creatives who share their activist values focus on climate change, the green economy, and other themes with art projects like the aluminium animal display. In this case, the temporary art installation didn't work quite as planned, because the animals were powder coated to glow green in order to communicate the threat of radioactivity that war or accident might cause.

The paint didn't really work – the artists plan to try it again when it's not so cold, to see if that helps – so instead, the aluminium animals appeared as a ghostly white outside liquor stores or under street lights.
Environment isn't the only theme, but it's a common one for the HDL team. It's not unusual for the artists to appear in public wearing gas masks in order to make a statement about clean air, and the masks are a signature in many of their art pieces.

They've even painted an old barn with the classic "American Gothic" farm couple, outfitted with the same protective gear, which adds a jarring effect to the famous 1930 painting created by American artist Gordon Wood.
The couple also focuses on antiwar public art, including an exterior wall mural that portrays a woman wearing the same gas mask, but holding an assault rifle that sprays a rainbow and butterflies instead. They've designed a billboard with a flashing neon dove flying above a rising earth. Much of HDL's work is in the United States, but they've studied in Australia and worked on projects in Costa Rica, collaborated with Canadians, and encouraged artists in other nations to advance a progressive and sustainable vision.
It's a message that gets attention, and that was the point of the HDL's aluminium animals – one they hope to make a more permanent installation in and around downtown Detroit. The team plans to return in the spring with new additions to their aluminium menagerie.