K8 Hardy Makes Fashion Arty, Fun

"This blanket expression that you shouldn't judge a person by their clothes is ridiculous to me," says artist/stylist K8 Hardy. For Hardy, fashion is more than just what you wear, it's art.

"Every article of clothing is so loaded with signifiers, I don't know how you can help but make up stories about people and their desires based on what they wear," Hardy tells Guy Trebay for the New York Times. Hardy sees fashion as one of the many mediums through which she, as an artist, can twist and pervert our notions of power, gender, and class. For example: the photograph "Fashionfashion Money Look," shows a girl, sitting spread-eagle in her underwear, with menstrual blood soaking through, obscuring the dollar-sign pattern. (Unsurprisingly, this is not the piece the NYT chooses to focus on, but it is an interesting example of Hardy's blurring of fashion photography and art.)

Hardy's zine, FashionFashion, features hundreds of images like this one. Fashion is present, but not in the glossy, overpriced, shellacked-into-sameness way that we are accustomed to. Hardy's fashion stylings are much closer related to street style blogs, but with a particularly punk DIY spin that distinguishes it from any of the chicly perfect women featured on The Sartorialist or Garance Doré. In FashionFashion, Hardy dresses herself, and her sister, in thrifted and unlikely clothing:

An ice-blue satin dress with padded shoulders is turned inside out and worn as a skirt, the disturbingly sexual nude-colored pads inverted above the hip. A mesh tank striped in the colors of the Jamaican flag, paired with leopard tights and a raucously tropical man's blazer, is worn by the artist Ramdasha Bikceem, her gang-style chest tattoo proudly exposed. A matronly power suit is matched with an Homburg reminiscent of Williamsburg Hasidim and a sad wig that resembles silver tinsel.

Although the Times focuses on her fashion shots, Hardy is also famous for her video art. In 2005, she collaborated with Wynne Greenwood on ''New Report," which showed the two dressed as television newscasters, reporting for the fictional station WKRH. Hardy played "Henry Iragary" (last name taken from psychoanalytic theorist Luce Iragary). They interviewed a friend about her depression, reported on bra burnings and other feminist happenings, and lip-synced along with daytime television. Hardy's work is often funny and witty, but decidedly feminist in tone. This make sense, considering her education. Hardy has a BA in Women's Studies from Smith College, and she recently received her MFA from Bard College. She is a self-described "lesbian feminist with punk sensibilities," and thus at home with the "rampant multiplicities of identity."

Recently, Hardy began working as a stylist with fashion photographer Steven Klein. "I was on the set playing fake-it-till-you-make-it," she said. "I had no idea who Steven Klein was. I didn't even know Armani." Hardy admits that "you wouldn't really say I have any kind of background in fashion," yet she has worked with bands like Le Tigre and Fisherspooner, and even completed a collaboration with the designers JF & Son on a collection titled "My Favorite Things." Her addiction to thrift shopping has paid off in a big way. Pages from her zine are currently on display at Reena Spaulings Fine Art gallery in Chinatown, and last year an exhibition of her work was on view at the Tate Modern. With the recent spate of criticisms that have been leveled at the fashion industry, Hardy's recent success makes a lot of sense. Although there is a good deal of feminist theory hidden in her layers of vintage oddities, there is also a sense of pure excitement. Fashion is fun, funny, and witty. Her photographs are a lot more interesting than the endless stream of models jumping in front of a neutral background, wearing a look straight off the runway. She picks clothing not for their labels, but for their strangeness - "I'm interested in the weirdest things," she says. And it shows.

Playing Dress Up For Keeps [New York Times]
Reena Spaulings Fine Art [Official Site]
Exhibition Detail: K8 Hardy [ArtSlant]