‘Mixing It Together Allowed Me to Hit the Right Note’: Watch Meriem Bennani Meld T.V., Sculpture, and Film Into Her Own Artistic Language

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21
Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Meriem Bennani: In Between Languages." © Art21, Inc. 2020.

What would happen if all the immigrants from Africa were forced onto an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, into a physical and metaphorical state of cultural limbo?

That question is at the crux of video artist Meriem Bennani’s film trilogy Life on the CAPS, which centers on a fictional island where American troopers have exiled immigrants who attempted to enter America via teleportation. The dystopian landscape is “a physical analogy for the idea of diaspora,” Bennani said in an exclusive interview filmed as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series.

In the video, the artist is seen installing the eight-channel video work in 2019 at Clearing gallery in Brooklyn, and she explains the arc of her work, which often focuses on the in-between-ness of cultural exchange and assimilation.

Poster for "Meriem Bennani: Life on the CAPS" [detail] (2022). Courtesy of the artist.

Poster for “Meriem Bennani: Life on the CAPS” [detail] (2022). Courtesy of the artist.

Bennani was born in Rabat, Morocco, and says she feels more at ease expressing herself through a compilation of images instead of with words. “I think that has to do with being here for 10 years and being English-as-a-second-language, and feeling like I’m losing a bit of my first language, which is a very strange feeling,” she said.

“I found that developing this practice that pulls from so many different languages—of T.V., cinema, sculpture, and installation—mixing it all together has allowed me to hit the right note, in my own way.”

Bennani’s videos are funny, but also disturbing because what seems like a far-fetched plot line is actually pretty close to reality. “In ‘Party on the CAPS,’ I imagined a world where teleportation is possible,” Bennani said. “Europe and America would freak out about their borders if teleportation was possible.”

 

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series, below. “Meriem Bennani: Life on the CAPS” is on view at the Renaissance Society through April 17, 2022. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series, like New York Close Up and Extended Play, and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.


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