Even among the relatively eclectic crowd at BarBelmont, artist K8 Hardy stands out. Her two-tone hair, signature blue glasses and ACT UP “HIV Positive” T-shirt signify more than just a style statement.
“I don’t give a fuck about fashion,” says the New York-based artist, although her upcoming Legendary — a fundraising performance for the Dallas Contemporary — is ostensibly a runway show. “I use fashion as an inspiration because we’re so oversaturated with images that fuel our consumption and our commercialism. That’s more interesting to me.”
Hardy’s September Issues installation at the Contemporary, which runs through December 30, illustrates her take on those five-pound glossies bursting with ads that arrive in mailboxes each August. Posing awkwardly in a too-tight pencil skirt or clutching a mash-up of the latest “it” bag with pastel-painted talons, the awkwardness of her body language and ridiculousness of the costumes recall an overly ambitious style blogger attending her first season of runway shows.
Her participation in Legendary is more as the director — rather than the star — but Hardy brings a big piece of herself into what is a largely an improvisational performance.
Both Legendary and September Issues could be seen as an outgrowth of Hardy’s successful Untitled Runway Show, 2012 performance earlier this year at the Whitney Museum’s 76th Biennial, which — according to The New York Times — was reminiscent of avant-garde designers such as Miguel Adrover, Susan Cianciolo and Bernadette Corporation.
A former stylist for Fischerspooner and co-founder of the queer feminist artist collective LTTR, Hardy was raised in Fort Worth and spent her teen years sneaking out to punk clubs on Greenville Avenue and creating ‘zines. Adopting her moniker from a play on classic Sk8r terminology, she was exploring a feminist voice in her music and writing, yet not defining what she did as “art.”
“I had gone to the Kimbell [Art Museum], but I couldn’t paint, so it never occurred to me I was an artist,” she says.
Hardy majored in women’s studies at Smith College in Massachusetts, and she found video production the perfect way to explore the topics of identity and gender power. Her professor, established artist and filmmaker Elisabeth Subrin, encouraged her, showing contemporary video arts and experimental film that, as Hardy says, “blew my mind.”
Hardy started making and selling a “cinezine” of her films and played videos at shows of the conceptual art band Tracy + the Plastics. An internship with artist Miranda July led to a tour down the West Coast, with stops everywhere from Ladyfest to television access shows. As she expanded her work into live performance and photography, Hardy continued to use herself as the subject to avoid objectification and play with the fluidity of identity.
Her participation in Legendary is more as the director — rather than the star — but Hardy brings a big piece of herself into what is a largely an improvisational performance. For her, the most important thing is that Legendary is a “call and response” with the viewer, opening a dialogue that will continue long after the show is over.
“I don’t need to prove myself in my work,” she says. “I just let that be open to how the audience wants to receive it. Probably in a different life I was a politician because I like talking and I like listening. I feel my work is about agency — it’s an active, not a passive, way of living.”
Legendary by K8 Hardy takes place Thursday, October 4, 8:45 pm, at the Dallas Contemporary. All proceeds benefit Dallas Contemporary exhibitions and learning programs. September Issues runs through December 30.