There where humans can’t go
There are three Brutalist buildings in the Balkan peninsula, in which flying fish
Our gaze rests on the encounter between technological creatures and toy objects.The first chapter, No Wise Fish Would Escape Without Flying, narrates the story of a motorised paper fish trying to fly away from an inflatable shark. The balloon-shark’s hunt takes place in Prishtina in the National library of Kosovo.
By following the flight, we see the building from above, which over the course of the years, has changed lives many times. The library was built at a time when the federal Yugoslavian government was focused on strengthening Kosovo. Then for almost a decade, it was transformed into an orthodox religious school and used by the Serbian army as a control and command centre during the NATO bombings.
Through the chase, we experience the building from the exterior, as well as the interior.
How can the goldfish escape from the shark and fly freely? The artist focuses on the human emotions of fear and impotence. History is an abstract backdrop and imagination is the collective instrument, for making reality malleable. The electronic and the robotic are integrated parts of the game fuelling the imagination. The narration of the film was created by a group of children from Bonevet, an NPO founded in 2014 in Prishtina, that sought to find a way to free the fish from the net. What would happen if the artist became a director of a collective operation? The co-authorship is the premise for exploring, shaking things up, and looking towards new directions, in particular because the protagonists are a group of children entering into a relationship with an architecture deeply rooted in the history of their country.
The fate of these buildings is always very complex. In some cases they are inhabited by the residents, as a symbol of transformation – the library today represents a place of ferment in the city – in others they reconnect with a darker past. This is the case of the Pyramid of Tirana, the majestic place at the heart of the second chapter titled, How Deep Can a Dragonfly Swim Under the Ocean?, where Zeneli films a space never to be seen again, before the beginning of renovation works. The Pyramid, a commemorative monument built in the 1980s and dedicated to dictator Enver Hoxha, is set to become one of the most important technological centres in the Balkans, a project being undertaken by a Dutch architectural firm.
The photography of the film evokes the emotion of the transition and highlights the aesthetics of an abandoned ruin.
Light is an illusion, while at the same time being indispensable, for observation. Beneath the headlights, a micro-robot dragonfly is condemned never to fly again; to survive he feeds off the fossils of an octopus that in turn keeps it hostage. Through ups and downs, setbacks and revivals, the Pyramid has undergone myriad lives: once home to one of Albania’s first national television stations, then a disco, exhibition space, cultural center and lastly a NATO base. However, it was the young generations of Tirana who appropriated it unexpectedly, climbing to the top. The octopus, a wall design made with spray cans, is the evidence of their presence there.
Even though the artist doesn’t place emphasis on the historical context and the filmic experience remains open and direct, the past is ever present. We can hear a distant voice and remember when, during the dictatorship, no one could leave the country and very few were allowed to enter. The filmic fables of Zeneli arise from random encounters and the possible solution to questions, seemingly without answer, reappears in the process of collective creation that runs throughout the trilogy. What matters is the encounter. The local television is broadcasting the story of a man who claims to have unjustly spent 21 years in prison. Driant decides to contact Rilond Risto via social media. During the last years of isolation he has been fortuitously making small mechanical flying insects: the dream comes true as Zeneli sees the small mechanised dragonfly made by Risto. Power dynamics and history are intertwined with individual narratives, creating utopias which subvert the natural order of things in the perpetual attempt to detach themselves from a context imposed by society.
Presented at the Gestus exhibition, at the Teatrino di Palazzo Grassi, the first two chapters have heralded a transformative dynamic. The Venetian project collates ideas inspired by the great theater masters of the 1900s, focusing on the theories of the muscular breakdown aimed at splitting physical and mental automatism, and at the recomposition of a body, ready to move rhythmically in space.
In a process of physical and emotional re-appropriation of the architectural body, the true essence of humanity of the robotic animals and the realm of the imagination from which they derive, have been reactivated by the visitors.
The Gestus project has linked Zeneli’s practice to the acting technique proposed by Bertolt Brecht: estrangement, emotional distance through which the actor on stage shows conflicting possibilities – the cry of Mother Courage at the loss of children comes just before delivering a line, in which she states exactly the opposite of what we could expect, with the aim of making us to reflect. The dialogue with Brecht was fed by the tools staged by Zeneli that allow us to understand and explore new possibilities, playing with encounters, abstraction and the memory of concrete forms.
The third chapter is currently being devised. The structure is the Post Office of Scopje in Macedonia, a building that risks sharing the same fate of many other buildings that have fallen into ruin after the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Modelled in the shape of a lotus flower and completed in 1974, the Post Office is the symbol of the reconstruction of the city after the earthquake of 1964. The film, The Firefly keeps falling and the snake keeps growing, is inspired by the fairy tale of the firefly and the snake in which the snake, struck by the brightness of the firefly, tries at all costs to eat it, and reacts to that feeling of powerlessness in front of its bright glow.
Over this time Zeneli, is giving shape to the storyline and the characters in collaboration with the students of the University of Engineering in Scopje. Macedonian robots and toys share, proposing a theatrical comparison, the myth of string puppets: the field of action is the dream, the fantasy, where human beings cannot arrive with their own body but through their very essence instead.
Curator of Video Sound Art
15 October 2021
15 January 2022
Teatrino di Palazzo Grassi
Video Sound Art