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How ‘2 Lizards’ and Meriem Bennani Captured the Essence of 2020

Since 2016, Bennani has been engaged in what she calls a speculative documentary — a series of videos about a fictitious island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean she calls the Caps. The idea began to suggest itself when the Trump administration was cracking down on migrants. Bennani was on a research jag, obsessively learning about teleportation. (Despite her playfulness, she’s unfailingly rigorous, and spends several minutes explaining recent experiments with photons in the Canary Islands and elsewhere that prove teleportation is possible.) She started to imagine a future in which teleportation has replaced air travel, and becomes the primary means by which people migrate. “Americans would freak out,” she says.

So she conceived of an updated version of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that had the technology to intercept teleportations, and transport people to a holding place on the Caps. The disrupted teleportations result in physiological glitches, including pixelated bodies and a ghoulishly hilarious deformation Bennani calls “plastic face syndrome,” whereby skin is covered in a layer of plastic. (“In the Caps, bodies are a completely different story,” she explains. That they are constantly changing and in transition is “an extension of queerness.”) The story of this universe is narrated in the first video in the “Life on the Caps” series, “Party on the Caps” (2018-19), by a buoyant crocodile who gives a guided tour of the animated megalopolis. The crocodile is voiced by Crotchet Fiona, a rapper from Barcelona whom Barki met on Instagram and who is originally from Equatorial Guinea and has a chipper, Spanish-inflected accent. “It’s hard to place,” Bennani says, which is why she likes it.

The Caps, even though it’s filled with the injured bodies of people whose lives have been violently arrested, is a lively, teeming place. People are stuck there for generations, so they start to build things: neighborhoods, cities, their own internet, their own brands. Bennani has filmed each of the three installments of “Life on the Caps” in Morocco, including one this year that used footage shot by her subjects, and the second chapter, which will be exhibited at the Renaissance Society in Chicago in February, 2022, and Nottingham Contemporary in England in May. The project has become a device, she says, through which she can talk about the country of her birth, to examine the state of being in diaspora, of statelessness. It’s a condition too easily regarded as tragic, or anomalous. But for Bennani, it’s not necessarily either. When you’re in limbo, she suggests, you don’t necessarily want to return or to assimilate. Maybe the Caps, Bennani says, “is a blueprint for a way of living.”

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