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The Filmmaker Has Many Clothes

A young woman poses on top of a chair in a short black-and-white skirt, a red printed tank top and pink earrings that dangle almost to her shoulders, laughing as she tries to squeeze her body into the camera frame.

In a wrestling suit, she shows off her muscles. In a yellow cardigan with a black bow and a pencil skirt, she poses a little seriously, with a half-joking stiffness. In other shots, she picks up the phone, falls asleep, listens to the news and often does a little turn for the camera, showing off her virtuosic stylistic palette.

This is “Outfitumentary,” K8 Hardy’s 2016 film, which was screened last weekend at Metrograph on the Lower East Side. In 2001, Ms. Hardy decided to document her outfits almost every day for the next 10 years. Over the course of 120 minutes, viewers see Ms. Hardy in hundreds of outfits, one after another, with little dialogue. (She edited down the years’ worth of outfits, and some were lost to time because of missing film.)

“As a young artist in New York, I was running around the city like a peacock in my flamboyant queer and feminist looks,” she explains in a handwritten note shown at the beginning of the film.

With “Outfitumentary,” Ms. Hardy, 45, who exhibited sculptures, photography and a fashion show at the 2012 Whitney Biennial, seemed to anticipate the prevalence of “fit pics,” “outfit of the day” photos and selfies on social media. But the film is also a fascinating self-portrait of Ms. Hardy’s gender expression in a specific time and place. She stopped shooting only when her miniDV camera broke, in 2012.

Ms. Hardy showed up for the interview below, which has been edited, in a metallic blazer that shimmered in rainbow colors, a tie, a button-down shirt, jeans, pink cowboy boots she had foundin San Antonio and triangular Gucci sunglasses with rhinestones on the top. (“I buy very few designer clothes, but occasionally accessories,” she said. “These make people happy.”)

The previous night at Metrograph, she had worn a fur coat over a bikini and high-heeled Crocs. The range of these outfits felt true to “Outfitumentary,” in which we see her remaking herself daily, in an intimate performance for the camera, as years pass.

What compelled you to start documenting your outfits?

When I was in high school, I would go to the public library, and in college I searched archives, looking for images of queer ancestors, lesbians from the past, to see what their lives were like. There was not a lot, especially if you started in the ’90s. Now there are internet archives, but then it was really hard to find things that would help me to see a path ahead of me.

So when I started this, I was aware that I was going to make an archive that didn’t exist. I was aware that I was dressing in a really specific way, and I somehow thought it was important. The idea of recording my outfit every day provided a structure. I did not think this would become a film. I went to film school, and I didn’t even tell them that this was something I was working on. I thought it would be something someone might discover after I died and think, that’s cool.

You didn’t look back at the footage for years. What surprised you when you did, and when you began editing it into a film?

How poor the quality of the video actually was — I thought I was capturing all these great details! But it surprised me how emotional it was. It’s really a portrait. It tells a story of me growing up as an artist in New York. It’s not just a log of outfits.

Ms. Hardy started documenting her outfits after she had searched, in the 1990s, for archives of images of queer people and wasn’t satisfied with the results.Credit…Images via K8 Hardy/Hardy Studio; Picture Palace Pictures

In the beginning of the film, you say that you “felt there needed to be an accurate record of how a blossoming radical lesbian feminist was dressing.” How do you think about the way the film relates to gender identity and expression?

It’s clearly a performance of gender. We didn’t have the language then, but I see myself in the film as a young nonbinary person, experimenting with my gender presentation. I felt like I could make statements about class and gender with how I was dressing. It was commentary.

And where did most of the clothes in “Outfitumentary” come from?

Most were secondhand. I did a lot of thrifting whenever I traveled, and here in New York, especially in Queens. I was constantly reselling my clothes and buying new ones, cycling through them, so it didn’t really cost me money. I still sell my clothes.

If I lived in a big house in the suburbs, I might keep things, but this is New York, and there’s no closet space, and I can’t afford to keep things. I also like the idea of this secondhand economy — sometimes I’ll sell or give away something really nice, and people are shocked by that. But I like the idea of letting someone else have it, and get to feel good and excited about it too.

Do you have a favorite article of clothing that appears in “Outfitumentary?”

There are so many. There’s a purple suede Issey Miyake coat with flaps that I had found at a thrift store. I didn’t really know at the time that it was worth anything, or I sort of knew. But I’m just flapping around in it and having fun.

Why do you think we like taking pictures of our outfits so much?

Sometimes it’s for personal reference — if you’ve pulled together an outfit really well and you want to be able to wear it again. And now we’re just constantly documenting, over-documenting for social media. We’ve become even more obsessed with presentation.

When I started this project, it was before this kind of self-documentation was common. It was still a time when, if you stopped on the street to take a photograph of yourself, people thought that was weird. Some people thought the project was really narcissistic and off-putting. Over the course of working on it, that all changed dramatically.

What reactions to the film have surprised you?

Someone asked me, “Would you feel OK to die now?” Which surprised me, and no. But I thought it was an interesting question — it really does feel like such a complete portrait of that part of my life, and one that will last as long as the medium does. I had gotten tired of documenting outfits after doing it for 10 or 12 years, but after I started editing it, I realized I wanted to start again. It could be a 20-year project. Maybe I need to do it until I die.

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