Meriem Bennani: In Between Languages | Art21 “New York Close Up”

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We’re in the middle of installing
“Party on the CAPS”. So this curved wall that we
picked up in three parts, it’s going to be put together, painted, and then eventually installed. That will be, actually,
a screen. I have these parameters, which is the sound, the editing,
the animation. Everything is designed for the film. Then I add the space– how many screens, the scale. So, everything is coming together, and then the final touch is: the video finally makes it onto
the surfaces that we built for it. The problem is,
things that are level never look straight. This is the step where I get to edit my film, but using space instead of time. I go shot by shot, and for each shot,
decide what do you see where. I can make cuts, but I can also show something
in different places. That has an effect on
how you experience the film. [“Meriem Bennani: In Between Languages”] The sculptures started happening
with the films in mind. So I never made a sculpture that’s not
paired with a film. You bring into it things that are characteristics of another way of thinking. You learn something from animation that has to do with humor. And then you can make sculptures
that are funny. So I’ll have the master version of the video– that is what you would watch as a film– and then the sculptures, they come from a digital world that I imagine. Then they’re fabricated. So they all come from opposite places
and they meet in the middle. [SOUND OF SCHOOL BELL RINGING] I went to the high school I went to
in Rabat, Morocco, and I filmed a group of teenagers. [“Mission Teens”] The subject of “MISSION TEENS” is
the French-speaking culture in Morocco. [WOMAN, IN FRENCH]
–So I’ve been in the French system –since… –basically since kindergarten. [BENNANI]
The biggest tool for the way that French maintain this power is education. [SHEEP, IN FRENCH]
–Having your kids at the Mission is… –is prestigious! [BENNANI]
The film is not about how French is not a Moroccan language, but it’s more so about why French is political and also a soft power tool. [TEACHER, OFF-SCREEN, IN FRENCH]
–So, the definition of Third World is something you need to master! [BENNANI]
I was French educated. I learned about French history, French geography. The ways that I thought are like the way that I developed
being able to be critical– all these things are
complete products of French school. I had to emancipate myself from that to be able to talk about it. [WOMAN, IN FRENCH]
–The French Mission it’s that we don’t focus –so much on the country we live in. –Knowing that, even if it’s a French school,
but it’s like, –we’re in Morocco and I would like it if –they focused more on Morocco and Islam and everything. [HOUSE, SINGING]
–I’m a fancy house in Rabat… [BENNANI]
Also, I filmed houses from the neighborhoods where most people who
go to French school live. [HOUSE, SINGING]
–Got me up a golden door. –I’m very much what everyone admires. [BENNANI]
From the architecture, you can see what lifestyle people aspire to. “MISSION TEENS,” it’s first been shown here at
the Whitney Biennial, inside these sculptures on the terrace. I called them “viewing stations.” [HOUSE, SINGING]
–Palm trees. –Marble floors. [BENNANI]
When you press the button, it actually steals the video
from the other side. The other person on the other side
presses the button as well. So it becomes about having to coexist. [LAUGHS] The themes I choose for my work, I don’t make a conscious choice of being like, “I want to talk about post-colonialism.” I try to… follow what I spontaneously am drawn to. In “Party on the CAPS,” I imagined a world where
teleportation is possible. [CROCODILE]
–Remember when teleportation replaced airplanes? [BENNANI]
It’s kind of like thinking about
immigration in the future. [“America’s bouncer”]
–You can’t come in. –You can’t come in. [BENNANI]
Europe and America would freak out
about their borders if teleportation was possible. The Caps is an island
in the middle of the Atlantic. That is a place where American troopers– which is like a new version of I.C.E.,
kind of– has put people that have been intercepted
from Africa trying to teleport to America. And then the place has become
a place of its own. The whole island of The Caps is a physical analogy
for the idea of diaspora– how people think of diaspora as either
having to fully assimilate or return to the land they come from. But that actually there’s a third alternative, which is in that in-between. –Can you have the starting point be where
the lens would be? –See, the screen should come here. Usually when something interests me, I’m not able to clarify at first
why I’m interested in it. So that effort to articulate that interest, that’s the work. I haven’t been able to express myself or articulate myself with words
as well as I would like to. I think that has to do with
being here for ten 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. I’ve always been in between languages. I found that developing this practice
that pulls from so many different languages– of TV, cinema, sculpture and installation– mixing it all together has allowed me
to hit the right note, in my own way.

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