Humanoid alligators and lizards, and individuals coping with a syndrome called “plastic face” — these are just a few of the characters that populate Meriem Bennani’s fantastical cinematic worlds. The Brooklyn-based artist is known for her humorous, immersive video installations that combine the futuristic with the mundane.
These days, Bennani has been having a bit of a moment. Her 2019 project “MISSION TEENS: French School in Morocco” — focused on soft power, colonial legacies, and coming of age in her hometown of Rabat, Morocco — was included in the most recent Whitney Biennial. Bennani’s latest series Two Lizards (2020), co-created with filmmaker Orian Barki and freely available on Instagram, has inflected a humorous sheen to our current dystopia, via a pair of expressive Brooklyn-dwelling lizards, and rightly become kind of an internet sensation. Amid a pandemic with no end in sight, the wise-cracking, yet honestly pretty chill, lizards have become the quarantine heroes that many of us probably didn’t realize we needed.
This Wednesday (May 20), the digital art and culture platform Rhizome will offer a chance to delve into another of Bennani’s moving image works — the similarly dystopian and satisfyingly bizarre Party on the CAPS (2019). Set on a fictional island in the Atlantic, the film combines elements of documentary, fantasy, animation, and more that I can’t quite put my finger on, to render a world in which humans have abandoned air travel in favor of teleportation. While that might sound tempting right about now, it has its own major drawbacks, including the dangerous interferences of US government “troopers” in their attempts to prevent unsanctioned immigration. Individuals who have been intercepted mid-teleportation have been rerouted to the CAPS, a regressive yet technologically advanced limbo metropolis on the aforementioned island. Residents who have been “reassembled” bear the scars of such extreme techno-biological militarism (ex: the aforementioned “plastic face” syndrome, and a “baby couple” whose bodies have regressed from adulthood).
Yet if all of this sounds bleak or perhaps even too close to home, it’s worth noting that Bennani’s trademark is a sly style of humor, which suffuses even the most grave subjects — such as constant surveillance and potentially lethal immigration protocols — with a layer of catharsis. On the CAPS, communities like “little Cuba” and the Moroccan neighborhood where most of the film is set aren’t hapless victims; they’re too busy hustling, singing, partying, trolling each other, and otherwise finding moments of comedic relief in their efforts to just make it work. We would all do well to follow their lead.
Following the screening, Bennani will be joined by Aria Dean, Rhizome’s Editor and Curator, for a conversation about her work.
Where: Online, via Rhizome
When: May 20, 3–5pm EST
Visit Rhizome’s events page for more details.