“Abolish the family? You might as well abolish gravity.” (1)
It is with these words, spoken by an imagined, horrified reader, that Sophie Lewis begins their new book . From the outset, the magnitude of the task ahead for family abolitionists is clear. To abolish the family is to attempt something frightening, something unthinkable, something which requires one to challenge the fundamental rules which bind our world together. It is perhaps, then, no surprise that again and again Lewis reaches for science fiction (SF) to articulate this vision of a world beyond the family. For an SF creator, to abolish a so-called law of nature is not a ridiculous proposition which can be used to embarrass utopians into giving up on their belief that “things could be different” (4, emphasis in original). It is, rather, a serious undertaking which involves an investigation of those forces which hold life as we know it together, the willingness to experiment with those same forces, and the determination to remake the world, however alien what comes next might be.
“Abolish the family? You might as well abolish gravity.”
This piece contains mild spoilers and mild mind scrambling if you haven’t seen the 2018 film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Margaret Thatcher had something to say about Miles Morales, so too did narrative theorist Seymour Chatman, as well as those fighting the idea of a “half-black, half-Hispanic” Spider-Man (Rose, 2018). It wouldn’t be a stretch of my tingly senses to say these folks share the belief that there is no alternative, there is a single, right, way. Thankfully, the opening sequence of the film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, story by Phil Lord), sets the scene for social change with some cool emancipatory narrative devices.
It’s the kind of interventionist work that needs to be done because audiences have been trained to approach their story experiences, and much of life, with closed thinking. As part of his work on The Psychology of Closed Mindedness, social psychologist Arie Kruglanski explains that ‘the need for closure is the desire to have certainty, to have a definite answer to a question and avoid ambiguity’ (Kruglanski, 2021). A consequence of this is we can ‘jump to conclusions about others, and to form impressions based on limited and incomplete evidence’ (Kruglanski, 2004, 2). That character is the killer! Capitalism is the answer!
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher found it hard to imagine alternatives, and encouraged everyone else to find it hard. Thatcher is associated with the slogan ‘There is No Alternative’ — which refers to the neoliberal logic she popularised. In a speech, Thatcher not only said ‘there’s no real alternative,’ but also said ‘What’s the alternative? To go on as we were before?’ (Thatcher, 1980). As if the future is a long, single, inevitable, line of progression and the only choice is to stick with what isn’t working or proceed in the only available direction. Do nothing and crumble, or do the only change available.
In Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher connected the belief that there is no alternative to capitalism with dystopian films and novels that don’t imagine ‘different ways of living’ (Fisher, 2009, 2). Instead of representing or prefiguring different ways of living together, many works of fiction depict the destruction of the world by unbridled capitalism. Even our fiction jumps to conclusions.
Andrew Merrie and Pat Keys in conversation with Jo Lindsay Walton (and briefly Polina Levontin) about science fiction prototyping and the Radical Ocean Futures project.
JW: We’re lucky enough to be joined by Andrew Merrie and Pat Keys. Andrew is a Research Liaison Officer at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University (Sweden) and the Head of Futures at Planethon. Pat is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University (USA).
We want to find out more about your very intriguing Radical Ocean Futures project, and Science Fiction Prototyping in general—as well as adjacent ideas like applied science fiction, critical design fiction, diegetic prototyping, speculative design, all part of the theme of this special issue. But I guess let’s start with the high seas themselves. How do we define the high seas? What are some of the issues that arise in their governance? Surely mighty Poseidon is ungovernable? To me, those words already feel strange in a sentence together: ‘governing the high seas.’
AM: The high seas are areas of the ocean that are not managed by any single authority. In some ways they represent this largely unexplored ‘wild west’ of the global ocean. When you’re trying to think about how to govern the high seas, you are thinking about things like climate change, overfishing, deep sea mining, genetic resources and so on. But you also have to contend with the pace of change. The ecosystems are changing, and the technology is changing, and companies and other kinds of actors can basically take advantage of these gaps or delays in regulation, and sort of do what they want in this ocean space. Interestingly enough, just a few weeks before this issue of Vector went live, a historic deal was made, after nearly 20 years of talks to put in place a legal framework, the UN High Seas Treaty. That said, monumental governance challenges remain and though very consequential, this is really the start of another 20 years of work.
JW: In this context, does ‘governance’ refer to international law?
AM: Partly. Governance is actually broader than that. It refers to a variety of laws, regulations, institutions, certifications, norms and so on. It’s everything that is relevant to how we look after the oceans, or fail to look after them. For example, for the governance of marine ecosystems, computer modelling is very important. But you can’t just look at a model and go, ‘OK, here is what will happen, if we follow this management strategy.’ There are all kinds of questions about what is possible or plausible. About what models to use, what their assumptions are, how you should interpret and use their outputs. All that could be part of governance.
JW: OK. And these questions are more than technical questions, right? They quickly get us into the realm of politics and ethics. But sticking with ocean ecology for a moment. Honestly, when I think of the ocean, I mostly think, ‘I have no idea what’s going on in there.’ I want to quote a 2016 WIRED article about your project. ‘Earth’s oceans are having a rough time right now. They’re oily, hot, acidic, full of dead fish—and their levels are rising.’ Can you tell us a bit more?
Danbee ‘Tauntaun‘ Kim, PhD; Xiao Xiao, PhD; and Amelia Goldie, MArch
This artwork-essay first appeared in Vector: Futures, a publication in part supported by the PASTRES programme (Pastoralism, Uncertainty, Resilience: Global Lessons from the Margins, www.pastres.org), funded by the European Research Council (ERC) (Grant No. 70432). PASTRES is co-hosted by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the European University Institute (EUI).
Semiosis is second nature to us. The methods by which we transcribe and store information, the processes of creating and reading texts, are so baked into our everyday lives that we barely recognize them as inventions. People who we believe to be ‘ancient’ — civilizations who nevertheless succeeded many thousands of years of prehistory — believed writing to have been a miracle bestowed by heaven (Senner, 10-16). For our part, most of us seldom think about where writing comes from. If we do reflect on it, we might assume that writing is simply the best way (or the only way) to perform all of writing’s functions: our preoccupations are with the many hundreds of millions of bytes processed by a computer instead of the rote conventions of literacy. But that in the English-speaking world there should be some twenty-six visible orthographic marks and a handful of other numbers and symbols, that these should indicate English phonetics and be placed together to make words, that these words should be grouped into sentences with punctuation for clarification, that there should be this number of sentences on a page and that number of pages in a book, that a book should deliver information and move the heart within expectations of convention and genre, that there should be a library to organize these books, and that other languages though they use abjads, abugidas, or syllabaries, should be similar enough for translation — these are not inevitable developments.
By looking at the early history of writing I hope to isolate key moments of its adoption and development into the primary medium of the literate world today. At the same time I hope to explore other methods of data collection and meaning transference, other systems of semiosis, and speculate on their potential to act as modes of literary communication as complex as the written word. In doing so I risk a Whiggish and deterministic approach to history, I flirt with clumsy teleology and notions of progress. I hope that these extrapolations are understood as not one-to-one equivalences on an imagined great path of history, as they would be in an inelegant alternate history. I don’t intend here to elevate writing above speech, song and dance; nor to imply that my inspirations are in any way lacking their own semiotic richness and complexity. Rather, I intend this article as a playful investigation into possibilities, and as a reminder of how speculative fiction often presents as ‘universal’ what are really just the technologies and practices of a handful of recent powerful empires.
How Jennifer Walshe is Reinventing the Music of the Past and Reclaiming the Music of the Future
By Paul March-Russell
One of the highlights of the 2022 Proms season was the London premiere of The Site of an Investigation (2018) by the Irish avant-garde composer Jennifer Walshe. This thirty-three minute piece in twenty-six sections offered a synopsis of Walshe’s preoccupations. Walshe herself, sounding like a cross between Laurie Anderson and Diamanda Galas, took the role of soloist, offering an elegiac commentary upon such topics as the race to Mars, the threat to the oceans and the prospect of digital immortality. The orchestra, largely acting as the symphonic backdrop to Walshe’s fragmented monologue, were further inveigled into the proceedings by waving party streamers, building and demolishing a tower of bricks, and wrapping a four-foot high giraffe in crinkly paper. Both the absurdity and incoherence of the piece, culled from an array of internet sources, recalled ‘the blip culture bombardment’ of the mediascape in Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1985).
Exactly a hundred years since the first composition of Kurt Schwitters’s sound poem Ursonate (1922-32), a text that Walshe cites as an inspiration, such anti-art performances can still drive audiences either to delight or despair. In Walshe’s case, however, The Site of an Investigation is only an adjunct to her two main projects in recent years. The first, Aisteach, archives an alternate history of an Irish musical avant-garde that never existed, presenting original sound recordings and learned academic discussion. The second, The Text Score Dataset 1.0, involves the compilation of over 3000 text scores with which to retrain machine learning algorithms so that new scores can be generated by AI. This article offers an introduction to these two projects from the perspective of Walshe’s acknowledged debts to science fiction. The final section presents a speculative synthesis since, at the time of writing, Walshe has not linked the two projects together. But what if Aisteach was included as part of the dataset? What kind of future music emerges from an invented set of past sounds? How might we reclaim the future as well as the past? Could we obviate that ‘slow cancellation of the future’ as described by Mark Fisher and others?
By Mark Rohtmaa-Jackson & Allan Hughes / Blue Mountain Arcturus
When not in the tower he haunted the room where he had set up his War Tables – high benches on which rested models of cities and castles occupied by thousands of other models of soldier. In his madness he had commissioned this huge array from Vaiyonn, the local craftsman. […] And Dorian Hawkmoon would move all these pieces about his vast boards, going through one permutation after another; fighting a thousand versions of the same battle in order to see how a battle which followed it might have changed.
In Moorcock’s The Chronicles of Castle Brass, Hawkmoon is consumed by a madness to commission his miniature armies, and finds their permutations and predictions more absorbing than the fine day outside his room of tables. Rather than turning inward like Hawkmoon, we, under the guise of the parafictional games company Blue Mountain Arcturus, find ourselves examining tabletop gaming as a means to turn our inward selves toward the wider world: as a language through which we try to alleviate our anxieties of the fine day. This text is a summary of how we hope to achieve alterations to our conditions through an experimental practice. It hopefully points towards areas of study that might be useful to others working with tabletop games as a means to learn strategies for survival: the challenge to critical games design in the wake of Guy Debord and Alice Becker-Ho’s Game of War (1987).
Citadel of Chaos (2019) is our case study for this article, an artwork made for the exhibition Polymorph Other at Queens Hall Arts Centre, Hexham, that same year. It was conceptualised, designed and built as a large piece of scenery or terrain for a hypothetical wargame table. It is a background rather than a focus; something that gives a place an environment that enables other things to happen. As such it is about the possibilities of things happening because of what we might have made. But this is not just on the small scale (a piece of scenery allows a story to be told between players through a game being played) but in the belief that this kind of work can change things outside of the system in which their world is contained (that such stories can lead to possibilities elsewhere).
This article is a brief introduction to science fiction theatre by Greek artists based in Greece and the UK. I’m happy to have been asked to also discuss the theatre company I co-founded, Cyborphic, as the main case study. One would hope that science fiction theatre hardly requires an introduction: the genre has been on stage for at least a hundred and one years, since Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which premiered in 1921 in Hradec Králové. However, science fiction theatre has been present as a largely invisible and underexplored category. In the 20th century, it not only included stage adaptations of Mary Shelley’s and H.G. Wells’s novels, or musicals such as Little Shop of Horrors or the Rocky Horror Show; it also included plays by Samuel Beckett, Caryl Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Alan Ayckbourn, and Vladimir Mayakovsky. A foundational text by Ralph Willingham, Science Fiction and the Theatre (1993), remains one of the few studies that demonstrate the strength of the science fictional imagination in 20th century theatre.
The genre has proliferated in the 21st century, most notably in experimental and fringe productions. More and more artists and theatre companies appear happy to label their work ‘science fiction theatre,’ marking a change from the last century, in which dystopian and post-apocalyptic settings such as that of Beckett’s Endgame, or devices such as time travel or alternate history, could often appear on stage without terms like “sci-fi” appearing anywhere in the accompanying marketing. Notable exceptions to this included the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool (founded in 1976), and Ray Bradbury’s theatrical adventures in Los Angeles, where he led the Pandemonium Theatre Company and adapted several of his well-known science fiction stories for the stage.
More recently, Jennifer Haley’s The Nether, a crime/science fiction thriller set in a virtual realm, had its world premiere in California in 2013. Plays by Alistair McDowall, such as Pomona (2014), X (2016), and The Glow (2022), featured genre elements, from Lovecraftian horror to science fiction and the supernatural, and have been staged in the National Theatre and the Royal Court. Jordan Harrison’s Marjorie Prime was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, later adapted into a 2017 film. The first theatre festival to focus on science fiction was Sci-Fest LA in 2014; it included theatrical adaptations of works by Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker. California seems to be particularly friendly to the genre, as does New York, where the Untitled Theater Company #61 has staged new science fiction plays by Edward Einhorn and his adaptations of Ursula K. Le Guin’s and Philip K Dick’s work. Also in New York, Mac Rogers has presented his Honeycomb Trilogy (2012), a trilogy of science fiction plays based on R.U.R. Meanwhile, in the UK, science fiction plays and performances have been populating fringe festivals such as the Edinburgh Fringe, Vault Festival and others — including the Talos Science Fiction Theatre Festival since 2015. On that note, and to begin discussing where contemporary Greek theatre-making fits into this world, I will next reflect on a company and a festival dedicated to science fiction on stage.
I. On Cyborphic — or do Orphics dream of Cyber sheep?
Cyborphic is a London-based Greek and Science Fiction theatre company, founded in 2017, producing ancient and contemporary Greek theatre. The company is run by playwright and lecturer Dr Christos Callow Jr. and dramaturg and classicist Dr Andriana Domouzi. Its projects have included a reconstruction of Euripides’ fragmentary tragedy Melanippe Wise, and the solo performances Mayuri and Posthuman Meditation. Cyborphic has also run the TalosScience Fiction Theatre Festival of London (which predates the company, being founded in 2015). The festival has featured contemporary science fiction plays, including work by Greek theatremakers, such as Superhero by Andreas Flourakis. Cyborphic also organised the Performing Greece conferences on contemporary Greek theatre (including papers on Greek science fiction theatre) and the latest Stage the Future conference on science fiction theatre. The company runs a small network for science fiction theatre artists and academics, SF Theatre Network, and organised a network of Greek artists in London.
Of these projects, the most ambitious is Melanippe Wise. The completed text included Domouzi’s translation of the play’s surviving fragments and is based on Domouzi’s doctoral research into Euripides’ two lost Melanippe tragedies, Melanippe Wise (c.418-411 BC) and Melanippe Captive (c. 413-412 BC). It was first presented at the Hope Theatre in London in November 2019, funded by the Institute of Classical Studies and the University of Derby. The process for researching and reconstructing the play was explored in a workshop series titled “Lost Greek Tragedy: Staging the Fragmented and the Fantastic” (Domouzi 2020), and will be further explored in a chapter of Domouzi’s forthcoming edited volume Tragedy Resurrected. Reconstructing, Adapting and Staging Lost Greek Tragedy, to be published by De Gruyter.
Finally, Cyborphic aims to bring interdisciplinary research to theatre-making. Cyborphic’s website features an online database of 21st century science fiction theatre plays and performances, chronicling more than 100 plays with sci-fi elements, including Afrofuturist, contemporary fantasy, horror, and others. Currently, Cyborphic are planning TalosV, and a full production of Melanippe Wise.
II. On Greek Science Fiction Theatre; Live or Leave your Myth in Greece
If we’re happy to consider proto-science fiction when discussing the underexplored Greek science fiction theatre, one may start as early as the fragmentary play Daedalus by Sophocles (likely a satyr drama) where the fragments “160 and 161 testify that the play contained something about Talos” (Sophocles, 1996), the artificial man of bronze. If we were to maintain this flexible approach to genre, we could consider several Greek adaptations of classical Greek drama that have used science fictional, futuristic and/or dystopian elements across the 20th century. One of the most interesting such texts is Medea by Vasilis Ziogas, written in 1995, which features a chorus of metahumans in addition to three goddesses, and blends ideas from Greek philosophy, Christianity and astronomy along with a posthuman take on Medea. The play is unpublished but there’s a copy in the library of the Department of Theatre Studies of the University of Athens. The following quote demonstrates well the style and attitude of the play:
And you Metahumans, that the wisdom you achieved while you were living, rewarded you with the fourth level of galactic life. It is not Jason that elevated himself to the meadow of the fourth dimension, but it was me who descended to meet him. (Ziogas, cited in Domouzi, 2016)
What is of particular interest here — and this is an important theme that science fiction and ancient Greek theatre share — is the struggle of the individual with the cosmos, a struggle which takes mythical proportions. Domouzi argues that at the heart of the play is “the dual substance of Medea,” who is presented here as “some kind of human goddess,” and that the “meaning of the universe and the purpose of existence are central to the text, positioning the characters and the myth against a cosmic problem” (Domouzi, 2016).
Besides such adaptations of classical Greek plays, there have been in Greece — as is the case everywhere — several theatrical adaptations of science fiction films and novels, including quite a few takes on Clockwork Orange as well as We ; an adaptation of The Man from Earth was at Theatre Alkmini from 2013 to 2014, and theatre director Katerina Evangelatos had presented a new adaptation of 1984 in 2016.
But what of Greek science fiction on stage? The first co-production of the Greek National Theatre with the Greek National Opera, Galaxy, also premiered in 2016. The show combined ambitious visual effects, dance and performance, and explored, among other things, cosmic topics from the Big Bang to hopes of alien life elsewhere in the universe. Other examples include another production at Alkmini, Mars 1, by the theatre company “θεατρικό σωματίδιο πΟδήλατρΟν” (which might best be translated to “theatrical particle bIcycle”) and the dystopian drama 3% by Vily Sotiropoulou — set in 2040 — which first ran from 2016 -2017, and was presented again in early 2021. Even its pre-pandemic edition featured Skype connections with actors based in other countries. There was also Mission to Planet Earth by Sakis Serefas, produced by the National Theatre of Northern Greece in 2010 and concerning two alien beings that visit Earth. Home Greco by Vaggelis Alexandris and Odysseas Androutsos, which ran from December 2018 to March 2019 at Theatre Stathmos, was an intergalactic sci-fi comedy exploring the history of Greece through aliens. Another surreal but sf-relevant play is Blood Enemies by Arkas, published in 2007 and performed in 2008 at Neos Kosmos Theatre in Athens; the play features anthropomorphised organs in the body of a dying alcoholic shortly after an accident — the dialogue between the Small Intestine and the Colon is meant to be both funny and existential, as they’re stuck in a Beckettian scenario, with no luck being transplanted and thus surviving in another body, unlike other organs.
It is safe to assume that if Greek science fiction theatre is influenced by anything, it’d primarily be the Theatre of the Absurd and subsequently Science Fiction Cinema and Literature, rather than the lesser known tradition of science fiction on stage, such as in American or British theatre. I doubt that Alistair McDowall or Anne Washburn are well-known in Greek or Greek-Cypriot theatre; however there was a staging of Caryl Churchill’s A Number in Athens at 2005 and a staged reading of a Jennifer Haley’s The Nether directed by Evita Ioannou in October 2020 in Lefkosia, Cyprus.
Many of the performances mentioned above rely more heavily on surreal and absurdist elements than science fiction; what is exciting from an interdisciplinary perspective is how Greek theatre aesthetics can influence the exploration of science fiction in Greece, Cyprus and European theatre more broadly. Some of these plays explore what it means to be Greek, or to exist in modern Greece, from an alien or dystopian perspective. But what of Greeks abroad?
When it comes to thinking about science fiction theatre and performance of the Greek diaspora, especially in the UK, identity issues related to immigration and isolation may be more dominant, alongside general concerns about the state of the world and/or of the planet.
An Ice Thing to Say by London-based Vertebra Theatre and directed by Mayra Stergiou, has involved several Greek artists in its production and has participated at several festivals (in London, Melbourne, Reykjavik, Stockholm and elsewhere), having had both digital versions for online events (that blended live and recorded performance) and live, in-person shows. The performance, blending elements of physical theatre and ice installation, explores the encounter between a human being and a polar bear, and engages with issues of the Anthropocene Era and anthropocentrism. It also featured in one of the Talos theatre festivals (at the Cockpit Theatre in November 2020) alongside another theatre project by Greek creatives, Genome Theatre’s Genesis 37, an immersive performance that involved audience participation both in-venue and online (via Zoom and thanks to a projector and live-streaming from a camera-person on stage), in a feminist story exploring the ethics of cloning.
My own science fiction play, Mayuri; or, The New Human, was performed as part of the Kensington + Chelsea Festival and online for Edinburgh Fringe in August 2021, and explored issues of robotics, posthumanism and immigration. I’d rather not talk about it in my own words here; but according to Geraint D’Arcy in a lovely review in Foundation 140 (Winter 2021 issue), the play is centred “on the triumph and anguish of abandoning the body in favour of a technological and philosophical unknown.”
III. A Conclusion; or, perhaps, a Cliffhanger
One of the challenges of science fiction theatre-making is the creation of work that succeeds both as theatre and as science fiction. Willingham noted that most of the science fiction plays he catalogued in Science Fiction and the Theatre “are the work not of science fiction writers, but of independent dramatists schooled in the old playwriting formulas” (Willingham, 1994, 3). The ideal perhaps here is that, as the cultures of science fiction and theatre continue to explore each other, we have in the 21st Century more plays that build on both traditions. My hope for the future of Greek science fiction theatre is that it engages with both the more-developed science fiction theatre traditions beyond Greece, and with contemporary science fiction literature by Greek writers — rather than operating in a vacuum or reacting mainly to classic dystopian texts. Another hope is that it interacts more with the speculative fiction — and proto-sci-fi themes — of Greek myth and classical theatre.
In any case, I hope that this article has demonstrated that — for better or worse — Greek science fiction theatre exists, and that it has a growing (and perhaps a glowing) presence.
D’Arcy, G, 2021, “Review of Mayuri, or the New Human,” Foundation, vol. 140, no. 50.3, pp.130-132.
Domouzi, A, 2016, “The Metahuman in Modern Greek Theatre: science fiction motifs in Medea by Vasilis Ziogas.” Performing Greece II: Conference on Contemporary Greek Theatre, 3 December, London.
Domouzi, A. (2020) “New life for lost Greek drama: reflections on reconstructing and staging Euripides’ Melanippe Wise.” Institute of Classical Studies blog. July 2020. Available from: ics.blogs.sas.ac.uk/2020/07/09/new-life-for-lost-greek-drama-reflections-on-reconstructing-and-staging-euripides-melanippe-wise. Last accessed 2 February 2022.
Sophocles (1996). Fragments. Edited by Hugh Lloyd-Jones. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. P.64
Willingham, R. (1994). Science Fiction and the Theatre. London: Greenwood Press.
Christos Callow Jr is a Greek British Playwright and Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Derby. He has founded the Talos: Science Fiction Theatre Festival and has written several science fiction plays which have been presented at Being Human Festival 2021, Kensington + Chelsea Festival and Edinburgh Fringe.
All images are part of No Ordinary Protest project, with permission from Mikhail Karikis.
Please briefly introduce yourself.
I am a Greek-born artist based in London and Lisbon. I work mostly in moving image, sound and performance. I develop projects through collaborations with individuals, collectivities and communities that are often located beyond the circles of contemporary art. In recent years, I have been working extensively with children, teenagers, young adults and people with disabilities.
Since the early stages of my practice, the politics and materiality of the voice have been key concerns, while at the same time engaging with themes that give voice to different ways humans relate to the environment. There has been an instinctive journey that I began with films exploring voicing conditions of labour in the context of extractivist practices. This moved forward by looking at models of sustainability and eco-feminism, and more recently eco-activism and emerging forms of labour that service nature.
I would say that my works prompt an activist imaginary and rouse the potential to imagine possible audiotopias (i.e. speculative places invoked through sound) and desired futures. I employ listening as an artistic strategy to help determine the content of my projects with the aim to highlight alternative modes of human action and solidarity, and to nurture critical attention and tenderness.
To what extent do you consider your work and practice to be ‘science fictional,’ if at all? Do you actively think about genre in your work, or do the labels come after the fact? (Surrealism, social realism, performance etc.)
I find science fiction and fantasy literature inspiring, but I do not think of my own artistic work through the lens of a specific genre. Perhaps where some science fiction literature and my art practice align is the way I employ my work to imagine and propose different worlds. I often start projects by embedding myself in different community contexts, and as such, social realism is always my starting point. Reflection, imagination and fantasy play an important role as I develop the themes and the projects mature and take shape. A decade ago and after I’d spent several years producing work that was furious and acutely critical, I took the decision to go further and invest my energy and imagination to proposing ‘better’ alternatives. My use of the word ‘better’ here implies a world with social and environmental justice, egalitarianism and practices of care.
Sounds plays a central role in much of your work. Can you say a little bit more about how you see the relationship between the sonic and visual aspects of a new project?
I am currently developing a project which explores our relationship to weather phenomena. I am approaching it from three sonic perspectives: folk songs that call out to the elements, capture and transmit traditional knowledge about seasonal change and meteorology; a second angle is that of music instruments that imitate the sounds of weather and bring the environment into the concert hall through sound, like, for example, wind machines and thunder sheets; and a third perspective is the acoustics of resistance generated through eco-activism and protest. I am working with folk singers, professional experimental musicians and young school children on this project to bring together these three different forms of auditory culture that are testimony to our profound connection and entanglement with the weather. As is common in my work, the performance of these different forms of sound will determine the visual dimension of the project. Be it on a macroscopic or microscopic dimension, all my films capture acts of communal sound-making, resonance and vibration, and document the power sound has to set into motion the material universe, activate our sentiments and mobilise political thinking and action.
Are there any works of science or speculative fiction (in any medium!) that have particularly inspired you?
Every child and teenager should read The Iron Woman by Ted Hughes for its environmental focus, for empowering children heroes with activist ecological thinking and rebelling against adults, and for the central role listening and noise play in the story as superpowers that activate empathy toward more than human beings. The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin is a book everyone ought to read for its acute reflections on capitalism, gender politics and anarcho-communism.
Interviewed by Phoenix Alexander and Jo Lindsay Walton
This interview first appeared in Vector 295.
Hi Alexis. Could you introduce yourself and say a little bit about your background?
Hello, my name is Alexis Panayiotou. I’m a fine artist and a drawing tutor on the BA: Fashion course at Central St. Martins.
As you know, this is a special issue of Vector focused on Greek SFF. So our first question is: do you consider yourself a Greek artist?
I think of my identity as mixed or somewhere between cultures. I was born and raised in London. My parents are both Greek, from Cyprus, both came to London very young, my mum nine and dad fourteen. They have lived here ever since. I have never been to Cyprus so I only have a vicarious idea of the place, through my parents and other relatives, and a bit from TV and radio.
I grew up in a Greek household, eating Greek food, hearing Greek music every day. Greek was my first language until I started school, although now I only have a rudimentary grasp. At home I was steeped in Greek culture and as a young man I would have described myself as solely Greek, and I remember feeling very lucky and proud to be so.
As for ‘artist,’ I’ve only recently started being comfortable using the term — it comes with lots of lofty aspirations! When I was young I drew a lot, like most kids, so there were always parents or teachers telling me I was an artist, or that I would be one.