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Orian Barki & Meriem Bennani, still from »2 Lizards Episode 2«, 2020. Courtesy of the artists
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Orian Barki & Meriem Bennani, still from »2 Lizards Episode 2«, 2020. Courtesy of the artists
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Orian Barki & Meriem Bennani, still from »2 Lizards Episode 4«, 2020. Courtesy of the artists
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Orian Barki & Meriem Bennani, still from »2 Lizards Episode 4«, 2020. Courtesy of the artists
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Orian Barki & Meriem Bennani, still from »2 Lizards Episode 5«, 2020. Courtesy of the artists
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Orian Barki & Meriem Bennani, still from »2 Lizards Episode 5«, 2020. Courtesy of the artists
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Orian Barki & Meriem Bennani, still from »2 Lizards Episode 5«, 2020. Courtesy of the artists

Airplane Mode IRL

May 10, 2020
Text by Alicia Pawelczak
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Orian Barki & Meriem Bennani, still from »2 Lizards Episode 2«, 2020. Courtesy of the artists

»2 Lizards« by Meriem Bennani and Orian Barki illustrates the current state of the world in the pandemic, and discusses the collective mind in isolation.

It’s Corona Time, in times of Corona: a melody, a sound snippet you’ve probably heard somewhere. It went viral on TikTok, quickly spread to other social media platforms. With its lyrics and length, it is the hymn of our modern times, its production significant for »twennytwenny«: It’s freely available, short, poorly processed in form and content.

2020, the year that looks like the title of a dystopian novel you read as a teen or the code to something spy-related, hit us with a new form of nowness, a new reality, accompanied by reactions from every art genre you can imagine. Distributed by the World Wide Web and its ambassadors, plonked into the interfaces of social media, quoted and trolled by the very same.

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Orian Barki & Meriem Bennani, still from »2 Lizards Episode 2«, 2020. Courtesy of the artists

By looking for ways to cope, we do not exactly search for answers, reasons or explanations for the disastrous state the world is in, because evolution, globalization and just the way nature behaves, and transforms are constantly changing our planet. The motto is: The only way out is trough; laughter is the best medicine. I can simmer in my bathtub, shame people gathering in groups and praise nurses, all at the same time. With easily digestible, low-quality content, there is a grunt of relief, an emoji togetherness. We are distancing IRL but we stay connected in the cloud.

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Orian Barki & Meriem Bennani, still from »2 Lizards Episode 4«, 2020. Courtesy of the artists

At a time when it feels like we cannot do anything, just #staythefuckathome and have an opinion about it, we sure voice what and how we feel it. Whereas in historically similar situations, when staying the fuck at home was non-negotiable, the symmetry of the media remained clear: dispatcher and recipient were separate from each other. To be heard, you had to leave the house, which of course is dangerous. It’s also dangerous to chat up a person you’re interested in, or to critique a restaurant. For these things we have Tinder and online reviews. The outside is a jungle and poses a possible threat to our health. Swiping and rating in the coziness of our home simply seems more secure. Hans Magnus Enzensberger, who criticized the media of mass communication and their »technical distinction between receivers and transmitters« (from: Constituents of a Theory of the Media, 1970), would be confused. Are we in this together now, or are we alone?

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Orian Barki & Meriem Bennani, still from »2 Lizards Episode 4«, 2020. Courtesy of the artists

We are not able to go to the cinema, the opera, orgies or to church, yet we can stream everything in the safety of our homes and commentate at the same time. Consuming what’s happening in the world through our screens is something that is just Groundhog Day in the age of digital art. The web series »2 Lizards« is an animated trip of two lizards operating in these new times. It was created by the artists Meriem Bennani and Orian Barki and presented on IGTV and Artforum.

The lizards are roommates, lingering in a deep state of nothingness, waking up with questions like »What are you watching?«, passing the days without knowing what day it is – or even caring. Wandering through empty New York streets, they confess to each other that somehow they guiltily longed for this kind of state of emergency. If nobody can get up, it doesn’t matter that you also stay down. We are free to pause – no, we are not free, we’re obliged to pause. »That’s such a quarantine week one thing to say«, one lizard exclaims, knowing that by focusing on the positive, by really making use of this time, we can calm ourselves.

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Orian Barki & Meriem Bennani, still from »2 Lizards Episode 5«, 2020. Courtesy of the artists

Though not for the lizards living in a shared flat in claustrophobic yet empty New York. We know who can afford treating this time like checking into the Betty Ford Clinic: celebrities going live on Instagram, looking for the poorest looking corner of their mansions to feature as their backdrop; after Ellen DeGeneres faced a shitstorm for comparing the lockdown to being in jail while obviously being isolated surrounded by pure luxury. »You know who’s best at quarantine, though?«, one lizard asks. »Celebrities. Because it’s kinda their life anyway. They cannot do stuff, basically go outside.« When Foucault says, every building is a prison, maybe also the estates of the superrich have their limits.

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Orian Barki & Meriem Bennani, still from »2 Lizards Episode 5«, 2020. Courtesy of the artists

Oh, silly us. A cage is not a cage. From baking bread to »Don’t force yourself to improve, just be« to »What a nasty thing to actually look at this catastrophe in a more dimensional way«. The more you can show the results of your quarantine shenanigans, the more you expose your status. One lizard foresees: »Everyone is going to be a chef or a dancer.« The other adds: »Very anxious chefs or very anxious dancers.« How easy it is to shoot our most personal spaces and insecurities into the virtual contest of vanities. One cat, a friend of the lizards working as a nurse in a hospital, hasn’t got the freedom to explore their hidden talents: »I will think about all this once it’s over. Right now, I’m just on autopilot.« What a way to expose and hobby-shame those poor lizards.

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Orian Barki & Meriem Bennani, still from »2 Lizards Episode 5«, 2020. Courtesy of the artists

The ambivalent way in which the quarantine evolves over just a few episodes is eerily similar to the real reality. Wearing masks became the new normal, the outside something to avoid, the inside a safe haven for Netflix, a simple life and a constant news stream: As the lizards follow the especially American way of infotainment, Dr. Anthony Fauci appears as a rendered snake: The new rising of scientists. Exquisite poster boys telling you nothing but the truth (as far as research goes).

»Doesn’t it feel like we’re on a really long, long flight?« Numb, in airplane mode IRL or fighting on the front to save lives, everybody on this planet is involved in the Quar. At the end of the first episode, even the lizards (as very anxious dancers) begin to sway on their Brooklyn rooftop to Miles Davis’ »It never entered my mind«.

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PW-Magazine is a bilingual online magazine for contemporary culture.