“Fort Worth is easy to rebel against,” Hardy said. “Looking back, my creativity was a kind of rebellion. Because Fort Worth is so conservative, when you change a little thing about yourself — your hair, your clothes, the books you read, the music you like — it’s readily apparent that you’re different. I remember getting noticed. I loved that.”
Until she reached Paschal High School, Hardy’s life in Fort Worth bore few hints of the creative rebellion to come. Typical, solidly middle-class, the Hardy kids — Kate (as she still was), twin brother Ryan, and big sister Halie — rode the miniature train in Forest Park, enjoyed season passes to Six Flags Over Texas, and attended “Zoo School.” They went swimming and slurped snow cones when it was hot, made s’mores when it was cold.
Mom Cheril Hardy still lives two blocks from the family home near Texas Christian University. (Cheril and Wayne Hardy were married in 1971 and divorced in 1983.) She has remained involved in the lives of all her children, as they’ve grown up and moved on. (Ryan is now a Fort Worth attorney, and Halie works for a high-end travel agency.)
Halie Hardy Corning moved to Boston recently, but she and her husband, Scott, along with new baby, Silas, are in Fort Worth often — and Halie still works for Sanders Travel Centre here.
“K8 and I are more alike than you might think. I came first, so I was the horrible teenager so that K8 wouldn’t have to be,” she said, laughing. “We’re different, too. K8 is more cerebral, more intellectual. She’s always creating and thinking and making something.” Halie has modeled for a few of K8’s photographs and has attended most of her sister’s art openings.
Born a full generation after the demonstrators who led the 1970s women’s movement, K8 still feels the pain of those feminists. The issues of those days and the tenets of the movement’s leaders — Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Susan Faludi — still resonate with her.
This has been a tough year for women’s rights. It’s not lost on Hardy that in 2012, women are having to re-fight some of the same battles they worked so hard to win decades ago.
“My mother was a strong role model for me in many ways, not the least of which was feminism,” K8 said. “I still don’t think she realizes how strong and smart she is. She’s not the type to give herself a lot of credit.”
A strong, self-reliant woman, Cheril Hardy had decided at age 29, divorced with three small children, to go to law school at Southern Methodist University. In 1986 she was one of three young attorneys who started the first all-woman law firm in Fort Worth. In 1996, she became a Tarrant County criminal court judge, and she’s been on the bench ever since.
“My parents always told me I could do anything I wanted to do,” Judge Hardy said. She grew up in the small West Texas town of Snyder. “When I started my family in Fort Worth, I had some very clear ideas about what kind of mother I wanted to be.” She set about to share life experiences with her children — travel, museums, music, art, books. She got them involved in her election campaigns. She encouraged their pursuit of education. “Just as my father taught me, I wanted them to know that everybody is the same: All people are equal, and most of them are very interesting.”
K8’s self-confidence and artful curiosity began to take shape at Paschal. She was on the swim team and worked as a lifeguard during the summers. The edgy punk rock scene struck her fancy. An avid reader and a straight-A student, she began writing — poetry, journals, short stories, song lyrics. She published her work in her own ’zine, distributed, before the internet, by way of Riot Grrrl Press.
“It was called Glitter Days, and that’s still embarrassing,” Hardy said. “Perennially embarrassing.”
Frank Cervantez remembers it. “I still have a stack of them in the back of my closet,” he said, laughing. He was Hardy’s best friend in high school, a musician, fellow music fan, and sounding board for a 16-year-old who was finding her way. “It was a pretty inspirational time to be making music and to be a part of that scene,” he recalled. The two friends explored punk, sub-pop, and underground music — Bikini Kill, early Sleater-Kinney, The Hated, Moss Icon. Cervantez still makes music today. His latest band, Stumptone, is mixing a new record at Echolab Studio in Argyle.
“Frank’s always been a great musician,” Hardy said. “A genius, really.”
“We spent a lot of time at Mad Hatters on West Magnolia,” Cervantez recalled. After the shows and well after midnight, a small group of friends would gather on the lawn near the Kimbell Museum or at Ol’ South Pancake House to drink coffee, talk about the music, think rebellious thoughts, solve the world’s problems, discover the meaning of life.
“K8 had a strong personality. She was really funny, very intelligent, and very driven,” he said. “I knew she would do something, but I didn’t know what. I figured it would be writing, but she was also into fashion.”
During the frenzied preparations for Hardy’s runway performance piece at the Whitney, she reached out to her old friend to help find a copy of a tune by former Denton-based group The Wayward Girls. “She was super-stoked,” Cervantez said. “I didn’t have it, but I called some friends — musicians — and got a copy for her.”
“We Pay the Price” by the North Texas band punctuated the sound track of Hardy’s audience-riveting, critically acclaimed Biennial show.
High school was a pivotal time for her, Hardy said, in focusing her creativity and channeling her energy toward performance art. “Music was my access point to new culture,” she said.
She observed the power of mass media and began to imagine what her grown-up career might be. After looking at colleges and considering curricula, she set off for Smith College in Massachusetts to major in women’s studies. She and her mom drove across the country in a U-Haul truck. “We had a great journey,” Judge Hardy remembered. “She wanted to stop at every thrift store in every little town along the way.”
At Smith, Hardy met a video artist and fellow feminist who would become not only one of her favorite teachers but a lifelong mentor and friend. Elisabeth Subrin, an established artist and filmmaker in her own right, is an assistant professor of film and video for the Five College Consortium (Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst).
“K8 took her first video art class with me,” Subrin said. “I immediately recognized that she and I shared some kind of common cultural space. I could tell just from her energy, from the way she dressed. She was a spitfire — sassy — and there was just a mischievous air to her.” Hardy’s boldness made her stand out — that and her fledgling attempts to use video to explore fashion, friendships, costumes, and her own emerging persona.
“She made lyrical and experimental work,” Subrin said. “She was playing different characters and staging herself in different environments.”
Subrin’s classes and mentorship opened up the world of art to the student from Texas. “She helped me transform from an awkward Fort Worth punk girl into a real artist,” Hardy said.
With a bachelor of arts degree in film and women’s studies, Hardy plunged into a broad, varied art curriculum at Bard College in New York, earning a master’s of fine arts there in 2008.
In 2003, between undergraduate and graduate school, she spent a year completing the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program. It was a year well spent. Hardy made sense of herself and of art-making, made connections that would prove priceless and developed a sense of what it would take to become an art star.