k8 hardy may have invented the selfie
Do you remember what you were wearing 14 years ago? K8 Hardy does, because she filmed it. "I only looked at the footage for the first time last summer," she says. "It was fucking intense."
Even in an era where everything is documented, examining old images of yourself is difficult and fascinating. In 2001, Hardy, an artist who had just moved to New York, decided she would film her outfits for ten years. Recently, she dug up the footage and edited it into a 1.5-hour long film, which premiered at Reena Spaulings last month. The "Outfitumentary," which will screen around the country this year at art venues and theaters, is part portrait, part archive, and part commentary on the selfie—a phenomenon it predicts.
"We're looking at each other so much more now," Hardy says. "When I first started the project putting yourself in front of the camera in public was [considered] crazy and embarrassing."
That's part of what made it interesting. Hardy, known for feminist critiques of gender, media, and fashion, frequently appears in her own work. In Fashionfashion, her early '00s zine, she dressed up in thrifted outfits to create lo-fi parodies of magazine editorials. In Positions, a self-portrait series, she transforms herself into characters with giant crayon props, cartoon makeup, or Edward Scissorhands-esque hair.
By comparison, the outfits in the Outfitumentary are normal. Yes, Hardy wears sequined jumpsuits and sparkly earrings in the shape of Texas (her home state), but also leggings, T-shirts, and sweaters. Don't we all. Relatability makes the film interesting. Seeing only Hardy's outfits and never where or why she wore them, I found myself remembering that year in high-school when I wore high-waisted jeans and cowboy boots, or first heard that Enya song she plays. The Outfitumentary is the story of Hardy's clothes, but also of whatever thoughts they trigger in you.
I visited Hardy's Bushwick studio and talked fashion vs. style, going without a bra in Texas, and how selfies can become a feminist tool.
Why did you first start to film your outfits?
I had a moment after I first moved to New York where I thought, I'm wearing some weird clothes. I'm not going to hang on to this thrift store T-shirt dress forever. So I'm going to document it.
I always dressed [somewhat] over the edge, even in high school. It's easy in Texas. You can wear things that offend people, like no bra for example. In Fort Worth, I got kicked out of school for wearing a Born Against shirt that had a soldier saluting a coffin. They sent me home for all kinds of things, like having a chain on my wallet.
You did styling at one point in New York, right?
I was mostly a styling assistant. I wasn't very successful. I remember on my first job, it was Steven Klein for the cover of the Face. On set I called one of my friends and was like, "What's Armani?" I really didn't know. The most significant thing I did on my own was styled Fischerspooner for a couple years.
In those ten years that you filmed yourself, did your own style change? Perhaps because you were filming it?
No, I don't think so. I didn't even have the sense it would be an artwork one day. I was filming everything at the time.
Oh, running around drunk on the subway. Making out. Parties. 9/11. My friends at their studios. Me doing drag king shows in college. My friends were doing interesting things. JD [Samson] ends up being in Le Tigre and I've got some great Ani DiFranco karaoke footage of us. I was just documenting.
What percentage of your footage from that era got turned into work?
None! I made work with more intentionality. But because of the selfie phenomenon, this was something out of my hundreds of hours of video where I was like, "This is working." It's relevant.
Is it strange to you that selfies and self-portraiture are so normal now? How has that affected your work?
I think in the world of fine art and galleries, people still look down on it. It's common and "been done." I did a self-portrait series [Positions] for this reason. At [art] schools with young women, the attitude was, "Oh gosh they're taking photos of themselves. It's a phase they need to go through." There was the sense that Cindy Sherman took care of this and it's wrapped up with a bow. But if you're a guy and doing abstract painting, more power to you. It's a little sexist.
I think taking pictures of themselves helps young women understand their own bodies' objectification and maybe reclaim it. That's the unconscious, interesting thing happening with selfies. People are objectifying themselves freely and with pleasure. It takes the power out of the original objectification.
What about fashion? Do you think there's a way to use fashion to subvert objectification?
I would say style but not fashion. Fashion is an industry. It's high design. It's inaccessible to a lot of people. Style is what's available to you. It's the world and customs and factories and textiles and hand-me-downs and class and your neighborhood. It can be done no matter what kind of clothes you wear.
You take a lot of selfies now on Instagram. How is that similar to or different from the Outfitumenatry?
It's similar. It's easy for me because I've had so much practice. People are like, how are you so good at it? Well, what do you think I've been doing in the studio for 20 years? I know how to take a photo of myself pretty damn well.
Stills from K8 Hardy's Outfitumentary