Driant Zeneli

Constantly transforming

The evolution of a species is linked to its biological and molecular transformation, a transformation that takes place over very long periods of time, much longer than those we can really understand on a rational level. Periods that extend over that “deep time” that scientists began to intuit and theorise about in the eighteenth century, a time that began to unfold from the origin of the world and within which all things began to mould themselves. How can we truly understand the nature and depth of this time? How can we imagine something that we can barely write down in number form?

Charles Darwin, in his theory on the origin of the species, explains that every living being transforms, mutates over a period of time that is very long, but not indefinite, «since all living beings struggle to conquer their place in the economy of nature, if any species does not change and become a better match for its competitors, it will be exterminated.»[1] In other words, living beings respond in some way to circumstances that shape their reality and we already see this externally at a social level, the behaviour and the written and unwritten rules we follow shape our being and position us with respect to who we are or who we would like to be, our role within the community.

But internally, almost secretly at the molecular level, our behaviours, our social rituals, our choices, slowly over the centuries, transform us, changing the genetic inheritance that we pass on to our children and they to their children and so on, through that “deep time” that unfolds throughout the history of the world and the entire universe.

«Evolution is the nature of things», Sabiha Kasimati also told her cellmate, during the few days in February 1951 that she spent unsuspectingly awaiting her own execution, by order of the communist dictator Enver Hoxha. The Albanian biologist had published several studies critical of the management of lakes and rivers and aquatic fauna that Hoxha’s government was implementing, suggesting various improvements to enrich the ecosystem. But changes, as we said, occur in response to external situations, and if these situations are set up like a dam that through its cold black eyes looks obtusely towards the lake above, preventing any possible transformation, then the whole idea of evolution stops.

In “Those sweet murky waters” Driant Zeneli uses precisely the dam, foolish and imposing, as the guardian of this stagnation, the guarantor of immobility, condemning the fish – the main character of this film – to think of himself as the only fish of his species, with no past, no future, who is only in the present.

The video is a metaphorical journey into the life of this fish which, from a – profound – past in which it could fly, chooses to live in the cool, limpid waters of the lake, which will soon become turbid at the behest of the dam that intended to block any possible change in order to mirror itself in the motionless surface of the water.

But the fish is not afraid to face the great dam, even at the cost of its own life. The camera moves in a subjective shot, making us empathise with the protagonist’s journey through the murky waters of the lake, then taking us into the darkness of a cave where the fish, by stealing electricity from the great dam, has ‘liberated’ others of its kind, to make them feel how the change would make them immortal, because it is in our ability to transform ourselves that we become free to all intents and purposes, even from the confines of our bodies.

Since the origins of philosophical thought, the notion of the “all is flux” enunciated by Heraclitus has built our idea of reality, right up to contemporary scientific thought that understands the world, or rather the entire universe, to consist of «events. Of happenings. Of processes. Of something that happens. Which does not last, which is continually transforming. That does not persist in time.»[2] This seems to be the best grammar for science to think about the world, that of change.

So, if the world is made up of events that follow one another and are constantly changing, there is no possibility of extracting an event from its being part of the flux that runs through the world, from its being change. Thus, whatever dictatorial regime thinks it can stop the flow of things, it can delude itself (but only delude itself) that it has succeeded for an insignificant amount of time compared to the profound time of which we are part.

In the meantime, things continue to transform, like the fish/Sabiha protagonist in Zeneli’s video, who will not be forgotten as she feared hiding in the cave with the other freed fish; because secretly, among the molecules that more or less casually meet and come together to modify themselves, she is already transforming within us.

Stefano Romano

[1] Charles Darwin, l’origine della specie, 1859, Bolinghieri, Torino 1967, p. 166

[2] Caro Rovelli, L’ordine del tempo, Adelphi, Milano 2017, p. 87