Hit List: Greatest Hits
Tim Hardy, Carmen-Sibha Keiso, Gabrielle Skye Nehrybecki, Harry Hughes, Moss Lasica Wood
3rd August, 2023
It seems as though we are living in an aesthetic climate where the old is not old for very long; before style is reappropriated, refashioned and recycled into something resembling "newness". Hit List is a monthly film club whose headquarters are located on Gertrude Street, just a stone’s throw from the Exhibition Building, which property developer Daniel Besen purchased for $8.9 million, before plans to develop the site into a gallery space were denied by council. Screening compilations of 'all grades and genres of media' on a monthly basis, the program is co-curated by duo Nica Nevergna-Reed and Bella Besen. And while having only been in operation for a mere three months, the new collective have compiled a 'Greatest Hits’ reel due to present at Composite Space in the Collingwood Yards as part of the Gertrude Street Projection Festival.
As a new accompaniment to Melbourne's growing underground film-club circuit, Hit List will soon comfortably sit alongside Artist Film Workshop, Gay24, Unknown Pleasures and BBBC. Albeit Hit List presenting as a space which expands its repertoire to video art, making the young hub a little different to those mentioned; posited somewhere at the intersection of a filmic intrigue and more formal Melbourne visual arts spaces, such as Composite which was established in 2019 by Channon Godwin, former Director of Bus Projects, that operates exclusively to showcase moving-image arts practices. This makes it a unique space within Melbourne’s video conduits, sitting alongside the online based Recess, Rushes Gallery in St. Kilda and a most recent Abbotsford projection installment going by the name of Quality.
On a brisk mid-July evening I trounce up the stairs of Hit List’s spacious and cosy homebase where a busty larger-than-life sized crucifix bulges out at me. Presumably the work of enfant terrible Zac Segbedzi, I become aware that I’m entering a space which is open to a more radical understanding of the status quo. I am then met with a trough of bean bags shrouded in a haze of dim light and a wafting scent of mulled wine being served from a back-end window dividing the main screening hall from a row of dated office rooms. In an attempt to salvage myself from mid-year seasonal depression I plonk myself into the comfort of a bean bag, where my eyes become transfixed on the large projector screen with a visible Gertrude Street sunset cracking through the windows behind. Cast before me is the video of the podcast Call Her Daddy. I soon learn from my zoomer girlfriend sitting beside me that it’s “Red Scare for bimbos,” as the two women discuss the way in which one of them, cult icon Anna Delvey, conned a network of arts-brokers into believing she was an heiress in 2019. The vacuous quality of the content alongside host Alex Cooper’s long blonde hair and plush lips shrieked the first cry of post-irony that I encountered at the cool, youth-clad, and retrograde film club.
Co-curator Nica tells me that a focus of Hit List’s ethos is to encourage a deconstruction of preconceived norms around gender and sexuality, whilst merging dead media and unseen footage alongside more canonised works. Perhaps in an attempt to socially elevate the significance of more experimental video works from local artist-filmmakers Tim Hardy, Carmen-Sibha Keiso, Gabrielle Skye-Nehrybecki, Harry Hughes and Moss Lasica Wood. With at least one sample of local video in each monthly screening, bolstering Melbourne video art alongside shorts by infamous indie auteurs and nepo babies such as Sofia Coppola’s teen drama Lick The Star and Josh and Benny Safdie’s Goldman v Silverman. The curation of the films have an inherent penchant for American grunge aesthetics with New York being the most visited city amongst those selected. This “media archive”, a label Bella and Nica give Hit List, becomes activated through an almost endless tiktok-esque loop of tasteful visual signifiers.
Tim Hardy’s Palindrome is sandwiched between footage from the National Film and Sound Archive of 1950’s Bondi surf lifesavers and a round of Jon Rafman’s usual dystopian digital sim-plex. The artist, whose work is currently on display at Centre D’Editions, just downstairs from Hit List, is predominantly recognised as a photographer who often blurs the lines between commercial and fine art image dispositions. However the meditative shift into experimenting with the filmic form activates an oscillation in Hardy’s recognised boyhood codec, whilst also translating the literary notion of a palindrome — something which can be read both forwards and backwards into the visual format. The opening image features a still, off-balance long shot of a suburban park dominated by green leaves and grass, as a young shirtless man jogs repeatedly by the shot. Moments later we are transported into a distinctly mid-century suburban lounge room where we watch as a couple of boys wrestle — as soon as one beats the other, they repeat the exercise ad nauseum.
Hardy’s short features within Hit List's first slew of films entitled Play with Me; the most discernible theme, judging from the posters provocative image of the backside of a blonde woman, hand firmly clasped to her slightly revealed left butt cheek, appears to be athleticism. The videos in this series tend to reappropriate media which champions Australiana; à la Bondi lifesavers or traditional notions of masculinity, which may be interpreted as contradictory at first. However, contradiction is inherently a by-product of provocateurs who exist in a society beset upon conformity and conventionality; where appearing to suggest one thing, but preach another is suave. Is it this doublespeak that confirms Hit List as an example of this social artifice?
Generation Zoomer was defined in contrast to the aptly titled Baby Boomers, but also due to the rapidity at which culture now morphs and amalgamates itself again and again. Chantal Akerman’s 1975 film Jeanne Dielmann, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Bruxelles follows a lonely housewife’s repressed demise and is the modern-day apotheosis of slow cinema; a movement which attempts to curb the feverishness of capitalism. This restrictive slowness is key to Gabrielle Skye-Nehryebecki’s short film My Day Was Nothing Until I Met You whose singular macro subject matter, a grasshopper, matches the idle loneliness of Jeanne who precedes Skye-Nehryebecki’s video. An intimate take on the director-camera-subject that is exaggerated with the dubbed audio of a human-humming, presumably from the artist herself.
Hit List’s third and most recent staging was entitled Second Life, a direct reference to the RPG virtual reality platform that came into fruition in 2003, and has maintained itself as a primary aesthetic emblem for net-based-arts. Footage cuts from a standard 16:9 aspect ratio of a Levi 501’s ad set in the American desert, to the compromised dimensions of an iPhone screen where a slideshow of Moss Lasica Wood’s instagram @mosslws8 stories disclaim texts such as “if you made a flesh-light out of clams would it be bestiality?” over a flood of mundane domestic photographs with Coil’s Theme from Gay Man's Guide to Safer Sex rolling over the top. Wood’s ambiguous persona critiques the individualism prevalent in Melbourne specifically, yet applauds high fashion and the success of films like Wall-E suggesting a playfulness in their own uncertainty. Woods’ snapshot “stories” operate within a wider program of films suggestive of decadence and wealth being both important and materially fleeting. Which is where artist and game designer Harry Hughes’ short film Met seamlessly adapts the brief perfectly as the director and his coterie of glamour-hungry friends, namely artist Rowan Oliver and designer Bror August Vestbø, storm the red carpet during the Met Gala. Arriving in an Uber, the accomplices are quickly kicked out by security guards. Where such proximity to fame is left fleeting, but you may as well fake it until you make it… or end up incarcerated like Anna Delvey.
Decrying cultural trends whilst desperately seeking to conform is part of the irony in which Hughes’ film operates. Carmen-Sibha Keiso’s 2019 slacker short Muse elevates this concept through a fusing of anachronistic aesthetics, splicing black and white footage with colour, as well as shotty handheld camerawork nostalgic of early 2000’s skate-videos. Their film may make you wish you’d stuck around in the 1960s French New Wave, but you’ll be bitterly disappointed when the looming abjection of industrial Brunswick comes to dominate an angelic yet morose and almost Anna Karina-looking Brittany D’Argeville. Muse also features members of Melbourne's eclectic art-scene; painter Billy Bob Coulthurst and musician Brennan Olver, further mirroring the program which slates films under the label Fame Monster, with artist-turned-filmmakers Warhol, McCarthy, Trecartin and Fitch — feeding the artistic urge to become immortalised through self-iconicism.
The cyclical recyclability of visual culture appears more dominant than ever before, but Hit List provides a remedy for this in its curation that is both provocative, ironic and embedded in perpetually jarring contrasts that make way for new meanings. Hit List’s curation supplants footage of high art like Jeanne Dielmann alongside vintage Levis 501 advertisement or Looney Tunes cartoons with the work of young artists like Hardy, Hughes, Wood, Nehryebecki and Keiso — prompting its audience to question the murky subtexts of genre or algorithms. As repeatedly returning to the past is inevitably a byproduct of a culture devoid of contemporaneity; the ability to sieve through a media archive and allow it to wash over itself provides a new variation of the ‘schizophrenic signifying chain’.
Digby Houghton is a film critic and filmmaker engaged in the intersection between history and film with a particular emphasis on Australian cinema and its Underground film culture. He is also the co-founder of KinoTopia, a weekly newsletter on Melbourne arthouse theatres.
un Projects’ Editor-in-Residence Program is supported by the City of Yarra, Creative Victoria and City of Melbourne
Editor: Carmen-Sibha Keiso