As a studio art major at a women’s liberal arts college, I saw my fair share of Cindy Sherman wannabes. Indeed, I’m a big fan of the role-playing dress up doll that Sherman so deftly becomes in front of the camera. But picking up the project she has begun and taking it somewhere new is what young artists seem to be struggling with.
New York-based (and, admittedly, a former college classmate of mine) filmmaker, photographer and fashionista K8 Hardy has taken the Sherman aesthetic to a new level — and even The New York Times has noticed.
Hardy, a 31-year-old founder of the queer feminist art collective LTTR, occasional fashion stylist and creator of the cult zine FashionFashion opened her first one-woman show, To All the G#%$! I’ve Loved Before, of photographs this month at Reena Spaulings Fine Art, a gallery in a former Chinatown brothel in Manhattan.
ArtSlant describes her work as:
Playing on the codes of both queer and hetero-normative cultures, Hardy tests and wastes them all as she feeds her pose machine with other looks and meanings. Sometimes using her sister Halie as a stand-in self, Hardy displaces subjectivity across a sequence of gay cruising clichés and camp possibilities, refusing to settle into any final or agreed upon condition.
The “fashion” based shots live in the awkward space between ugly and beautiful, an apt reflection of an industry that is equally ambiguous and schizophrenic. Whereas an artist such as Sherman portrayed popular culture and art with either beauty and grace or gross horror it was the parody that was paramount. Here Hardy shows images of herself in outfits that she would very well wear out in public. Whatever lines were blurred before are now erased entirely, which makes the NYT‘s “dress up for keeps” title particularly appropriate.
It is also the basis of Hardy’s work/identity overlap. A woman who has worn many different labels including, but not limited to, lesbian, feminist, punk, artist, academic, activist, queer, she inhabits what she calls “rampant multiplicities of identity.”
By 13, she was already rejiggering her look on a regular basis. “In my junior high we weren’t allowed to wear cutoff jeans and I didn’t understand the politics of that,” she said. Her reaction was to dress one week as a rodeo queen, in high-waist Rocky Mountain jeans and cowboy boots, and as a hippie the next week, in tie-dyed shirts, long skirts and fake Birkenstocks.
Fashion and the photography that captured it became not so much an idenity or critique in and of itself but merely one medium of showcase. Nevertheless, introspection and social commentary spring forth organically from Hardy’s work. “I prefer to make the art first and analyze it later,” she said.
Growing up in conservative Fort Worth, raised by a single mother in a household that included her sister and a twin brother, Ms. Hardy “became aware really early of the desire to try and pull a reaction out of people and make a statement,” she told The Times.
“I didn’t grow up wearing designer clothes or luxury anything,” Ms. Hardy noted last week at her gallery. “You wouldn’t really say I have any kind of background in fashion.”
But she was raised in Texas, where, as she put it, “the rigors of personal appearance” and self-presentation are considerable. And while it’s a cliché as blatant as big hair, it is also true, Ms. Hardy said, that the emphasis Texans place on creating and projecting a persona through clothes provided her with solid training in analysis of “the social play and political function of dress.”
Ironically, it is her innate sense of fashion and showmanship and not any forced desire to political commentary that makes her work so interesting and full of cultural critique.
Are you familiar with K8 Hardy’s work?