Since co-founding the queer feminist art collective LTTR in 2001, K8 Hardy has generally been described as a multidisciplinary artist with a punk DIY esthetic. Her best-known work, the widely exhibited New Report (2005), a mock newscast produced in collaboration with video artist and musician Wynne Greenwood, appeared at Tate Modern a few years ago along with copies of Hardy’s home-brew publication FashionFashion. Viewers familiar with this zine may regard it as a laboratory for the artist’s new “Position” series of photographic self-portraits, which were exhibited recently at Reena Spaulings Fine Art. Much like FashionFashion, Hardy’s new series explores the realm where autobiography, impersonation and Dadaesque couture collide.
Recalling the impromptu getups of Grey Gardens star Little Edie, Hardy’s attire in the “Position” photographs involves imaginatively repurposed clothes. Underneath a blue football jersey, a fabric pubic patch is sewn to a turquoise leotard, while a vertical stripe of paint bisects the artist’s face. Elsewhere, Hardy stands in a spare industrial loft, wearing a bandeau bikini top and nylon jogging pants (the kind favored by seniors) that are tucked into thigh-high gold lamé boots. Her expression, looking past her oversize glasses, half-smoked cigarette and dowdy gray wig topped by a magenta plume hat, suggests that something or someone is testing her patience. Additional poses and clothing evoke, among other personas, a housewife both lost in uncomfortable thought and tense with depraved sexual anticipation. Such images mine a fashion photography strategy of positioning the model within a portentous situation (hence the series’s title). This strategy can be further traced to the cinematic technique of developing character through mise-en-scène and, where Hardy’s new work is concerned, to Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills.”
Despite the similarities between their series, Sherman’s relevance should not be overplayed. Hardy’s protagonists intuitively exorcise rather than interrogate social constructions. Their reliance upon improvisation is echoed by the amateur photographic quality, which encourages a visceral one-to-one viewing experience rather than reflections on film theory and gender stereotyping. Hardy also improvises in the darkroom, at times dropping a bra onto the paper in the enlarger or extending her middle finger over it. These impulsive gestures clearly pull Hardy’s self into the work, and further distance her photographs from Sherman’s.
One may safely assume that the clothing and accessories in Sherman’s photographs seldom leave the set on her own body; not so with Hardy. In this show, she includes several mannequin heads, each adorned with a colorful wig, beret or scarf, among other accessories. One mannequin sports the same glasses and wig worn by Hardy in a recent online interview. Whether or not the new work attests to a confluence of art and life or a fetishizing of personal style, there is a clear link between Hardy’s private dressing room and the gallery. The pivotal word describing her new self-portraits is “self.”
Photo: View of K8 Hardy’s exhibition, showing C-prints from the “Position” series and a “Head Posse” sculpture, all 2009; at Reena Spaulings.