We reunite with FYTA (Greek: ΦΥΤΑ, meaning plants), an Athens-based conceptual art and performance art duo. We worked with them early in their career and as we have established more of a presence with Greece developing the Dream Palace we have reconnected with their work, with a special screening of their critically acclaimed and controversial work ORFEAS2021 at Apiary Studios on the 23rd of September.

Find more details about the screening here

ANTENNA: Why should we see this film? How is this this film about Greek politics relevant in the UK?

FYTA: Well, during our initial screening at the Fringe Queer Film Festival, the event was sold out, indicating a clear demand. When we first embarked on crafting the ORFEAS2021 story, our primary audience in mind was greek. However, after screenings across Europe and North America, we discovered that certain themes in the film resonate with many different audiences.

In this adaptation of the baroque opera L’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi, the protagonist is the first openly gay prime minister of Greece. So there’s a central element of the story that revolves around contemporary LGBTQ+ politics from homophobic violence in the streets to the incorporation of gay activist discourses in mainstream liberal and increasingly right-wing political agendas.

But that’s not the only angle that has engaged audiences - in different screenings the Q&A sessions focused on different topics. In Bucharest, for example, there was a discussion around the clash between the so-called East and West in contemporary Europe; while in Athens, we had an animated conversation about the tension between revolutionary politics of the avant-gardes versus reformism and incremental change. In the UK, the question of Europe is still one that is very alive for many people, and also the recent spate of homophobic and transphobic attacks make this work very relevant too…

To summarize: if you are interested in post-modern operas, queer politics, hauntological visuals and the specter of the avant-garde - come!

AN: What are the origins of FYTA? What brought your collaboration to fruition? You both have such unique and brilliant minds. How do they complement one another and how did this collaboration grow in the creation of ORFEAS2021?

F: FYTA began as a band and was quickly transformed into a versatile creative entity. We enjoy shifting roles, moving from curators to artists, and from performers to writers and directors. Last year, we celebrated the remarkable achievement of a 10-year artistic partnership. Sometimes we call ourselves a ‘conceptual’ duo - Foivos is more inclined toward the textual aspect, while Fil leans more towards the visual artistic side. Fil already had an artistic background as a filmmaker before FYTA, whereas Foivos came from an academic and theoretical background.

We enjoy working together, expanding each other's frames of reference and accelerating each other's creative process. We both approach our work playfully, while also showing interest in artistic methodologies that are as fluid and interdisciplinary as they are thorough and grounded in research. ORFEAS2021 is our biggest project to this day - so we had to scale our operations, get more collaborators on board and for the first time develop a narrative-based long-form piece.

AN: How did you alter the work for cinema? Can you tell us more about that process and how you had to alter this story for cinematic performance as opposed to the stage? How did media as a concept play a role in this work?

F: The original live opera was actually something quite small, created within the constraints of the stage that was available to us then. Then Covid came and we couldn’t present the work live. At the time, it felt extremely tragic, but in the end turning the opera into a film was actually a gift. Working more independently and with much fewer practical limitations, the film is a much more accomplished version of the work. Apart from the fact that we were more at ease with the medium (Fil has been teaching film for nearly 20 years), film gave us the possibility to expand the production value with little means. A single cinematic cut can cost thousands when staged for the theatre.

From a conceptual point of view, creating a work that deals with notions of populism and political spectacles somehow makes more sense as a film. It’s a common place in 20th century philosophy that the cinematic screen is the main domain of mass indoctrination.

As FYTA, our work is always in some sort of dialogue with the idea of the ‘spectacle’ in the Debordian sense. We are both attracted to its affect and function and try to be critical of it. When the idea of making an opera came up, it seemed that it should be a live thing by default. Considering that ORFEAS2021 ended up being such a mixture of media and approaches, I don’t think we would have found an institution to support such a proposal if it started as such. It is too operatic for film institutions and too filmic for opera institutions. But I think this in-between state is one of its strengths and one of the reasons we so much prefer it to the live version.

AN: How important is myth to your work? What was your approach to mythology in the film?

F: Myth doesn't hold a significant role in our work, and we intentionally avoided remaking ancient greek myths before. Keep in mind that every year there are so many stagings of greek tragedies in Athens - a city where every artist has to reference Bacchae and Antigone at least once in their career. It feels utterly redundant at this point.

What consistently captivates us though, is the interplay between grand narratives and the everyday, the specific and the universal. In ORFEAS2021 a big theme is the writing of history (Who writes the official history? Can we re-write oppressive histories? Who and what is omitted in institutional historiography?) and there is a strong parallel between this notion and the idea of fate as it appears in the Orpheus myth (Can the mortals be in control of their fate?). From a political point of view it is important for us to understand archetypal figures and structures without elevating them to something that is essentially unchangeable - as this could easily slip into valorising them into an ahistorical universality - which can lead to a conservative or even fascist worldview.

AN: What's next? What are you working on now?

F: There are two big projects we are currently working on. The first one is called ‘Avant Drag’ and it’s essentially a poetic documentary featuring a series of political drag performers from Athens. It's set to premiere in the upcoming year and we are very excited about it. We are also working on a multimedia spectacle called Trans/lake, in collaboration with writer and performer Alvina Chamberland which is a re-telling of the Swan Lake story focusing on contemporary trans politics and romantic relationships in the post-digital era.

FYTA (Greek: ΦΥΤΑ, meaning plants) are an Athens-based conceptual art and performance art duo. Their work problematises Greek identity and nationalism. FYTA’s work combines different media and disciplines mostly operating within the wider framework of overidentification, queer politics and anti-humanist art, while they aim at a performative destabilisation of concepts of truth and nature / the natural.


Apiary Studios