Photos: Nysos Vasilopoulos

“Animals. Horizon. Face in a pan of water. In every story I tell comes a point where I can see no further”

Anne Carson

In an arid landscape, you hear the crickets chirp. You feel the vibration of the songs in the air. Each day is dry as a bone. The hot sun spreads its red tongues of warmness to envelop the fields and the trees with its final hours of light, while the darkness slowly drowns the crickets’ love songs. Through the landscape’s haziness, the Harvesters appear sliding effortlessly, more like ghostly memories than actual bodies. They are long, slim, and graceful, and they carry their baskets, plants, and insects everywhere they go. Shadows of dogs accompany them too. Their presence feels discrete and soft: a glimpse that doesn’t quite come into full view even though you stare at them directly.

In the exhibition space, Lito Kattou brings the Harvesters to life as if through an incantation. She carves them out from their landscapes, with their objects and companions, sometimes alongside glimpses of buildings and arches. She materializes their presence, opening up moments through time and space, to spin new webs of stories: conveying them from their own world, into ours.

Who are the Harvesters? What is their story? A genuine curiosity in depicting new ways of being in the world, made the artist embark on a journey to find these noble creatures. Their existence is based on the rhythms of nature, and shows how - in the wake of an unstable or damaged climate - they tend to their relationship with the land and its inhabitants. Kattou’s focus expands beyond them, on depicting how the landscapes they tend, have their own psyche, memory, and history, and how they exist in a cycle of intelligent symbiosis with the bodies of their inhabitants. Although it can be read as an allusion to our collective prehistoric past of the hunter-gatherers, the Harvesters should not necessarily be perceived as “humans”. With their unusual hologram-like presence, they seem more like guardians or tending spirits, connected to the world as we know it, part of it, but detached from our layer of existence.

Kattou’s curiosity in depicting them, spins out questions around the kind of stories we tell ourselves about our communities, and the stories we tell concerning the destruction of our environment by the extractive systems we have in place. What her practice highlights is the need for new narratives and updated mythologies: ones that have an anchor in faith, care and community, rather than conquering, killing, and deceiving. Thus, she envisions the community of Harvesters as a healing community, as protectors of sorts, who are in touch with their habitat and care for it.

Often, they are depicted in movement, which suggests that they are migratory beings: traveling from place to place with their companions and belongings. Through details, the artist builds a clear connection to our world, and - even more specifically - with her own background. For instance, the baskets that the Harvesters carry, are an ode to the tradition of basketry in Cyprus. “The heritage of basketry is one of the oldest technologies we have” says Ursula K Le Guin. In her essay, The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, she explores how the concept of the “container” has been by far more significant for our collective evolution than the invention of weapons. She highlights basketry as a technology that focuses on gathering energy “in” rather than pushing it “outwards”. Of course, now we know that the survival of ancient humans was much more reliant on gathering than it was on hunting but it is still difficult to dispel the correlation of our prehistoric ancestors’ killing and subduing with evolution. The mythology of Western civilization contains the history of survival and triumph over nature. It captures the violence and trauma that our ancestors experienced throughout time, as well as their success in taming the unpredictability of nature. These stories have rippled through different civilizations, echoing throughout time, and yet their alienating force has become more palpable than ever.

Kattou emphasizes a key-moment of “myth-making” through her practice, presenting a soothing alternative to the reality we are facing. The Harvesters imply how a new type of adaptation could occur. Simultaneously, they emphasize the importance of women’s work and knowledge in implementing this adaptation. While their baskets function as signifiers of new beginnings: gatherers of energy, givers of life, they also serve as models to help us envision a different relationship with nature through technology: from a weapon of control, suppression, and destruction, to a vessel of culture and civilization. In Kattou’s practice the Harvesters become a universal symbol: they are the mythological creatures we need in order to create new kinds of stories that are aligned with our current times.

Adriana Blidaru