Limerick, Ireland

Driant Zeneli

It would not be possible to leave planet earth unless gravity existed
In It would not be possible to leave planet earth unless gravity existed, Zeneli visits the imposing “Kombinati Metalurgjik ‘Çeliku i Partisë’ në Elbasan” (Metallurgical Complex ‘Steel of the Party’ in Elbasan). Introduced in 1962, the five-year plan of the Party of Labour of Albania was entirely dedicated to the development of the country’s most important steel complex. It was a relic—and a sign of political comeback following a stand-off with the Soviet Union—of the newly minted alliance between the Communist Party of China and the Party of Labour of Albania. The construction of Çeliku i Partisë continued throughout the 1970s with the technical and financial assistance of Chinese experts. After the opening, the chromium extracted in Bulqizë would, in turn, be used as the alloy for the steel produced here. The complex transformed the entire landscape of the historical city of Elbasan. Moreover, the lack of regulations caused severe environmental, health-related, and urbanistic problems in and around the city. After the fall of the Party of Labour of Albania in 1992, some of the factories housed in the complex were privatized; however, a considerable number of them were decommissioned and subsequently abandoned. It would not be possible to leave planet earth unless gravity existed unveils the social and political consequences of a collapsed, ambitious industrial complex. But it is also a film about Mario, a friend of Zeneli’s and the protagonist. During his lifetime, Mario had a life-long passion for flying and a particular interest in space travel. His unique character and Zeneli’s encounters with him furnish the basis for the “Beneath a surface there is just another surface” trilogy. As Mario wanders among the ruins of the post-apocalyptic landscape of Çeliku i Partisë and contemplates what is left from humanity, he pieces together his own escape plan. Zeneli, pivots the audience, as well as his friend Mario, towards a much-desired new ideal.

Maybe the Cosmos is not so extraordinary
Zeneli’s three-channel video installation Maybe the Cosmos is not so extraordinary is set in Bulqizë, a small town in northeast Albania. Built to respond to the mining industry workforce demands, Bulqizë is home to the largest chromium reserves in Europe and was an economic pillar of communist Albania between 1946 and 1990. From the 1980s onwards, the town’s state-run industrial complex experienced dynamic growth in chromium extraction and became a leading supplier of exports for the politically and economically isolated country. Incidentally, the town also housed a labor camp, where the political prisoners were sentenced to manual labor. Following the fall of the Party of Labour of Albania in 1992, the industrial complex was privatized, but chromium exports are still the driving force behind Albania’s current economy. Bulqizë is known today for poor working conditions and worker rights’ violations. In Maybe the Cosmos is not so extraordinary, Zeneli intertwines the contentious history of chrome extraction in Albania and the possibility of a utopian future in outer space. The sudden discovery of a cosmic chromium capsule prompts five children to begin their journey for liberation. The lifeless and historically charged environment of the town thus transforms into a frontier for an escape plan. Excerpts from Albanian physicist and writer Arion Hysenbegas’s On the way to Epsilon Eridani, 1983—a sci-fi novel about the extraterrestrial life, published and censored during the height of chromium extraction—accompany the journey with faux-propagandistic overtones. Similar to the way he incorporates encounters with his friend Mario into the film It would not be possible to leave planet earth unless gravity existed, exhibited in the opposite room, Zeneli develops the storyline in the footsteps of the dreams of the five children he met at Bulqizë. Leaning towards magical realism, Zeneli weaves fiction into the reality of their lives.

Driant Zeneli’s participation forms part of Little did they know, the Guest Programme of the 39th EVA International, curated by Merve Elveren. 

Driant Zeneli lives and works between Milan and Tirana. Zeneli represented Albania at the 54th and 58th Venice Biennale (2011, 2019). Zeneli has won the MOROSO Prize (2017), Young European Artist Award Trieste Contemporanea (2009), and the Onufri International Contemporary Art Prize, Tirana (2008). He was the artistic director of Mediterranea 18, which took place for the first time in 2017 between Tirana and Durres. He is co-founder of Harabel Contemporary Art Platform, Tirana.

Zeneli has exhibited at: Israeli Center for Digital Art, Holon (2020); National Gallery of Kosovo, Prishtina (2019); Sharjah Art Foundation Film Platform (2019); Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, Riga (2019); 2nd Autostrada Biennale, Prizren (2019); GAMeC, Bergamo (2019); Passerelle, Centre d’Art Contemporain, Brest (2018);  Prometeo Gallery, Milan (2010, 2015, 2018); MOSTYN, Wales, UK (2017); MuCEM, Marseille (2016); Académie de France à Rome (2016); Centre Pompidou, Paris (2016); IV Bienal del Fin del Mundo, Valparaíso (2015); GAM, Turin (2013); KCCC, Klaipėda (2013); ZKM, Karlsruhe (2012); MUSAC, León (2012); 5th Prague Biennale (2011); Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Villa Croce, Genoa (2009); National Gallery of Tirana (2007, 2008).

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