At a packed club in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, feminist heroine Kathleen Hanna is playing with her band, Le Tigre. Dressed in wacky matching outfits complete with pink sequin armbands, the trio is performing a charming choreographed dance in almost-sync with its tour theme: “For the ladies, and the fags, yeah, we’re the kids with the roller-skate jams!” Worked up into a giddy lather, the bouncing, beaming crowd sings along with every word.
It’s a far cry from early-nineties Olympia, Washington, where Hanna, as the lead singer of the critically acclaimed feminist punk band Bikini Kill, was known for, well, scaring the shit out of people. “Kathleen Hanna was … terrifying,” Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney has said of her performance style back then. With songs about incest and rape and “Revolution Girl Style Now,” Bikini Kill provided the soundtrack to the thrilling, self-aware, radical-feminist phenomenon known as the Riot Grrrl movement.
Hanna hasn’t exactly reinvented herself, but there is something new: Lately, the struggle for justice has gotten really, really fun.
Her move to New York after the 1998 breakup of Bikini Kill may have something to do with it. Upon arriving here, Hanna recalls thinking, Why was I wasting my whole life being somewhere else? In addition to founding Le Tigre with artists Johanna Fateman and Sadie Benning (later replaced by J. D. Samson), she discovered New York joys like riding the subway – witness the Le Tigre ode “My My Metrocard” – and pickup basketball.
Now Hanna, 34, has a new project – she’s opened the Spring Street Gallery at 1861⁄2 Spring, just a block or so down from Chanel and Burberry. The first exhibit, curated by Hanna, was “The Lesbian Calendar Show,” a series of haunting, eye-poppingly colorful prints by L.A. photographer Cass Bird that depict androgynous bandmate Samson as a variety of male archetypes – the lifeguard, the pool guy, the caddy. Guests at the opening included Parker Posey, Janeane Garofalo, Sara Gilbert, and Hanna’s longtime boyfriend, Beastie Boy Adam “Adrock” Horovitz. “Seeing pictures of J.D. hanging in Soho is a cultural mind-fuck,” says Le Tigre fan Kenny Mellman, of Kiki and Herb. “It’s guerrilla art at its finest.”
The gallery’s next show opens November 21 (Hanna has the Spring Street location only until January and is now looking for another space) and features Tammy Rae Carland’s “Beds and Letters,” photographs of lesbians’ beds and collages of ransom notes. (Carland, who lives in Durham, South Carolina, is the co-owner of Le Tigre’s label, Mr. Lady Records.)
Those familiar with Bikini Kill–era Hanna might expect a massive attack on the art world as we know it, but in fact, “I’ve gotten a lot from the New York art scene,” says Hanna. “The only thing that really bothers me is when people say that feminist art never existed. I’m just trying to find any platform I can to say, ‘Yes, it does; here it is. Yes, it does; here’s a place to look for it.’ “