The '2 Lizards' of the Apocalypse
A new web series by artist Meriem Bennani and filmmaker Orian Barki is a COVID-induced fever dream—and a welcome digital companion in these weird times.
A still from 2 Lizards, a new Instagram series by artist Meriem Bennani and filmmaker Orian Barki.
“I mean to be honest, I’m kind of into this confinement thing because I feel like I’ve been fantasizing about not having any plans and just having to stay home and do things I never have time to do,” one lizard says to the other. “So, in a fucked-up way... I’m loving this.”
“That’s such a quarantine week one thing to say.”
In 2 Lizards, a new Instagram series created by artist Meriem Bennani and filmmaker Orian Barki while in coronavirus-induced self-isolation, a pair of computer-generated lizards contemplate the end times.
Naturally, the anthropomorphized reptiles are also self-isolating, in what appears to be north Brooklyn. They speak in recorded audio from Bennani and Barki—who, in their first collaboration, both write, perform, shoot, animate, and edit the series—and fall somewhere on the visual spectrum between the GEICO Gecko and the lizard from Dan Deacon’s early YouTube opus, “Drinking Out of Cups.” In its two episodes so far, which run under two minutes each, the two lizards dance alone to a rooftop symphony (not a damn TikTok challenge in sight, for what seems like the first time this week) and take a tense drive around a slightly glitchy, mostly empty vision of Graham and Broadway, to an original score by COQUETA (a musical project by Bunny Jr. Tapes’s Jezenia and Jazzy Romero and Julien Passajou).
Aside from the stray human here and there, other CGI creatures populate their world: a camel-like figure playing trumpet, a sheep playing cello, a tip-toeing dog in a hazmat suit. Together, the titular lizards carry out uncanny approximations of conversations presumably happening around the world—or at least, in New York City (episode 1’s jazzy fadeout overlooking the skyline reads like a hallucinogenic ode to, shall we say, the direction of one Michael Patrick King).
As Bennani explains in an Instagram caption, the series reflects a “beautiful moment of communion through sound waves in Brooklyn despite social distancing—the protective membrane is very sensitive to soap and heat but also bass—these 2 lizards are lucky they work from home and can afford to stay inside. This is Yani and I’s first collaboration, we made this over the weekend to take a break from editing and animating for work.” (When asked for comment, the duo preferred not to elaborate: “We are trying not to overthink/speak about the videos in order to keep them fresh and spontaneous for our creative process.” Taking a break from the constant collective commentary during this rapidly changing scenario? Seems, well, more than reasonable.)
It is strange and invigorating to see these two CGI lizards live out a self-isolation experience that feels relatively familiar, a welcome foil to the mind-numbing exercise of watching celebrities, confined to their respective Parasite homes, attempt to eradicate both their boredom and dip in capital-“E” Engagement during this bizarre, frightening time (a point the lizards, of course, touch on in episode 2).
Bennani is no stranger to dropping humanoid creatures into the human experience (or, perhaps, dropping humans into the creature experience? Now’s as good a time as any to go galaxy brain, right?). From a donkey self-portrait in her film Mission Teens, as seen at the Whitney Biennial 2019, to the ubiquitous crocodiles in Party on the CAPS, shown at CLEARING gallery in Bushwick last fall, 2 Lizards stands adjacent to the Bennani’s steady beat: the surreal, funny, intangible uncanniness of being alive.
But, all CGI creatures aside, Bennani’s work is also typically chock full of people, in a way that 2 Lizards is, by glaring circumstance, not. My first introduction to the Morocco-born, New York-based artist came by way of wandering into her multiple-channel video installation, titled FLY, at MoMA PS1 in 2016. In the piece, an animated fruit fly buzzes around Rabat and Fez, weaving through crowds dancing and moving and living together… all while singing, in a tone you might imagine an animated fly would sing in, Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better.” Standing in the room, which felt simultaneously like a womb and a skatepark, captured the exciting, joyous, buzzy (sorry!) sensation of being outside, surrounded by other people just doing their thing.
I’d actually been thinking about FLY lately, if only because, man, I miss other people. I miss at least having the option of being next to other bodies on the train or on the sidewalk, the sheer possibility of the physicality of others. (Bennani’s work, as she said to Cultured last year, reflects the ways in which “Morocco is sensual and highly corporeal. It is a sexual place.”) When I consider FLY now, I think of walking around my mostly deserted neighborhood, the few of us outside connected by leaden, high-strung anxiety.
2 Lizards and FLY demonstrate the very timely contrast of feeling alone with one other person versus feeling alone in a crowded space, being the proverbial fly on the wall. Right now, Bennani feels like the perfect artist companion for being alone together, while remaining Very Online, during this moment. Aside from her more formal works, she also maintains an ongoing YouTube project, chronicling everything from anime soundtracks to Congolese rumba, Moroccan trap/rap to ambient Japanese music from the ’70s and ’80s (as she told Art in America, “I watch YouTube videos every day”). Check out a video or two while you wait to see what she, Barki, the 2 Lizards—and, for God’s sake, all of us—do next.