Photo courtesy of Meriem Bennani and Orian Barki.

2 Lizards is a candid reflection of our new reality

The must-see Instagram videos by Meriem Bennani and Orian Barki perfectly encapsulate the COVID-era zeitgeist.

by Paige Silveria
10 April 2020, 5:00pm

Photo courtesy of Meriem Bennani and Orian Barki.

Nearly a month into COVID-19 lockdowns, we get uncontrollable anxiety when watching shows where people touch one another, somehow a week’s worth of groceries is consumed in only two days and we’re on a first-name, texting basis with the wine-store guy. These are the times we’re living in. The must-see Instagram series, 2 Lizards, with references to Justin Bieber’s recent Insta live broadcasts, Zoom parties and Gentle Whispering’s ASMR videos, is a candid reflection of our new reality.

“We made the first episode because we wanted to collaborate on something and to take a weekend off of our work,” explains artist Meriem Bennani, who co-created the series alongside filmmaker Orian Barki. Together, the two write, shoot, animate and edit the two-minute installments — often collaborating with other creatives via the Internet on original music or to lend their voices for new characters.

Bennani, who works in an array of mediums, including video, sculpture and installation, is known for using satire to address topical issues — and was one of the four artists chosen for the 2019 Whitney Biennial who requested their work be withdrawn via a collective published letter in Artforum. Featuring people like Princess Nokia, Isa Ray and Barbie Ferreira, Barki’s documentary-style videos address subjects like teen sexting, coming out to traditional parents and growing up in New York City’s foster care system. 2 Lizards, which is their first collaboration, focuses on two New York-based anthropomorphic reptiles during quarantine and has the relatable feel of MTV OGs Downtown and Daria.

“I mean to be honest, I’m kind of into this confinement thing,” states a lizard with Bennani’s soft-spoken voice at the opening of episode one. “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 [...] So in a fucked up way, I’m loving this.” The other lizard, read by Barki, replies: “That’s such a quarantine week one thing to say.”

The dialogue feels all too familiar, and it’s easy to obsess over two computer-generated lizards who seem to express our sentiments perfectly — sometimes even more aptly then we’re able to. The above scene is set on a rooftop in Brooklyn at sunset, the camera pulls out to reveal other animals playing instruments from various rooftops, mimicking the now iconic footage of socially distancing Italians singing with one another from their respective balconies. In response, Barki’s lizard exclaims, “The the fuck!” The scene ends with the lizards dancing to the serenade — Miles Davis’ intoxicating “It Never Entered My Mind” — as the sun fades.

Since the first episode, which now has well over 80,000 views, they’ve been hit up by friends and other creatives who want to contribute to the project. “This has been an opportunity to make something with friends, a remote collaboration that evolves weekly,” Barki says.

So far, collaborations include an original score for episode two by local industrial cumbia band, COQUETA (comprised of Jazzy, Jezenia Romero and Julien Passajou), which is set in a car on a nearly-deserted Brooklyn street and whose dialogue was inspired by Justin Bieber on Instagram Live. For episode three — this one shows the lizards confined to a bedroom, staring into their phones and computer screens — Meriem’s longtime friend Flavien Berger used keywords that the pair sent him to create the music tracks, while New York musician Maluca lent her voice for that of the news anchor. “[Maluca] hit us up on IG and offered her voice, and that’s how we met," Meriem explains.

While the two creators are hesitant to reveal too too much about 2 Lizards, in hopes of leaving their artwork open to interpretation, they don’t plan on ending the series any time soon. “We hope it keeps going and mostly we hope it remains fun and sincere and spontaneous,” Barki says. We can’t help but agree.

Meriem Bennani
Orian Barki
2 Lizards