Art/Design, News & Events

Meriem Bennani, Orian Barki: the artists who made relatable art during the pandemic

words by: Sahar Khraibani
Oct 29, 2020

Artists Meriem Bennani and Orian Barki were, much like most of us, experiencing the “lockdown” and the strange reality of self-isolation in New York City this spring. As an attempt to take a break from their weekday work from home grind, the two artists decided to start 2 Lizards, an Instagram exclusive web series aimed to be viewed on the phone. 


The first episode, posted on Bennani’s Instagram account on March 17—a few days following the mandated shelter in place orders—was so of the moment. Highlighting instances of “beautiful communion through sound waves in Brooklyn despite social distancing.” The artists described the situation in the post’s caption as follows: “the coronavirus protective membrane is very sensitive to soap and heat but also to bass” as animated creatures screen overlaid with footage of Brooklyn roofs. When one of the 2 Lizard protagonists says that she’s kind of excited that plans and social obligations have come to a halt, the other lizard, voiced by Bakri, retorts back with “that’s such a quarantine week 1 thing to say.”


As the pandemic continued to spread over the city, and self-isolation revealed itself as the new reality, the two lizards in the following episodes echoed everyone’s progressive and slow moments of clarity, of frustrations, going outside and feeling anxious, watching TV shows featuring tigers, and attending Zoom birthday parties. The episodes, much like our lives, had progressed organically to a feeling of constant settling in, and constant reconfigurations.


Episode 4, released on April 11, features Cady, a nurse who was working at one of New York’s hospitals that was most affected by COVID-19, modeled in 3D by @tam4tik. Cady had shared her story with the artists via voice recordings sent in between two shifts. In it, Cady talks about commuting in scrubs, watching patients saying goodbye to their families via their phones and video calls, and the goosebumps-inducing 7pm NYC clapping routine.


Bennani, who’s worked in a variety of mediums, normally mixing sculpture installations and footage with animations (and was part of the 2019 Whitney Biennale), has used satire before to address socio-political and societal issues at hand. Born in Rabat, Morocco, she lives and works in New York. Bennani innovatively explores the potential of storytelling by employing magical realism, animation, footage, and humour. Mixing the languages of reality TV, documentaries, phone recordings, and 3D and commercial aesthetics, she manages to capture a certain absurd reality that, in the moment of viewing, totally makes sense.


Barki, on the other hand, is known for documentary-style videos, tackling topics like growing up in New York City’s foster care system, sexting, and coming out. A documentary filmmaker, she grew up in Israel where she started her directing and editing career for TV, and then moved to New York, where she is currently based. She has worked as a director and editor with Nowness, i-D, The New York Times, adidas, Shell and more. This web series is the artists’ first collaboration. 


Not many things have given me solace over the past eight months, but 2 Lizards came very, very close. The web series’ pace reminded me of one of my favorite shows as a teenager, Daria. The two anthropomorphic reptiles move and speak slowly, blink slowly, and are self-aware in a way that is remarkably refreshing. Some episodes even brought tears to my eyes and made me feel moments of communal belonging and experiences. If anything, 2 Lizards made me feel as though I was not alone in what I was experiencing in New York during the height of the pandemic, and that is a merit in and of its own.


Photo via Meriem Bennani/Orian Barki