“2 Lizards” is an animated IGTV series that sprung up during quarantine. Created by artist Meriem Bennani and filmmaker Orian Barki, the show’s eight episode arc documented New York's COVID-19 lockdown, using anthropomorphized lizards as a means of exploring isolation and anxiety. The lizards and their animal friends gifted viewers with a soothing and artful rendering of the fly on our collective wall during quarantine.
We spoke with Meriem and Orian about their first-time collaboration, what it's like creating in confinement, and prioritizing emotion.
What’s it like to be an artist in New York in 2020?
Orian: It's a very complicated year obviously. The pandemic has changed the way we operate as a society, revealing many dysfunctions at every level, cultural economies included. It's a lot of uncertainty and anxiety, collective and personal: one day it is paralyzing and the next motivating to be creative. We've been wanting to use art to reflect and process and amplify. Because the pandemic put our routine flow on pause there's an opportunity to sort out habits and make big changes in the way we organize.
Meriem: It's been a moment where we feel super creative and don't want to engage so much in the existing structures with that same creativity.
How did your upbringing influence your creativity? Did you grow up in a creative environment?
Orian: Yes we both grew up in an environment that supports creativity and imagination. We're lucky!
What are you doing when you’re not working?
Meriem: I like to hang out with Orian, listen to music, watch music videos, cook and eat, watch movies, start books and not finish them, draw.
Orian: Hang out with Meriem or with friends, ride around the city on a moped, conversations, drinking.
How did "2 Lizards" come to be?
Orian: On the first week of the quarantine Meriem proposed that we make a video together, she had a bunch of 3D characters she downloaded for an art show that got postponed because of the pandemic so she showed me all the options and I chose the lizards. We chose the dialog based on a conversation we had earlier over lunch, and the idea of other characters playing on the roof next to us we made up based on videos people were posting of people in Europe singing out of balconies. That was the first video. We made it in two days. We thought it would be just one video, but when we saw that the response was so good and that the quarantine isn't gonna end anytime soon, it was obvious to us that we would make more. The next episode our friends who have the band COQUETA offered to make an original score, and that is how the series opened up and became a collaborative project where each episode we worked with a friend for original music and other friends if needed voices and real stories and perspectives.
Meriem: We kinda asked them to make a score lol. The other story is that that same weekend we made a song together because I had just gotten Ableton on my laptop. We thought the song was fire, we were super proud. We decided to make a music video for it with animated lizards. But then we played it to my roommate Ari and she looked horrified and that's when we decided we should maybe forget about the music and focus on making a video with dialog. Thanks Ari...
I love the way the series abstracts and archives the changing, week-to-week moods of the pandemic—the human experience, the anxiety, the resistance—how did you know which particular mood was the moment you were going to craft an episode around?
Orian: This series is a diary, it's made like a documentary even though it's animated. Each episode portrays the mood of that week, the show was made in real time. I think it's what makes it relatable. The story unfolds the same way that life did in the period it captures.
Meriem: During the three months of confinement there was such a clear weekly progression of events and everyone was tuned into the news so we would base our episodes on real stuff happening but then try to extract the feeling rather than the exact information going on. We didn't want to add more information or to tell too much it was more about emotion and mood. I think that's what we prioritize anyways in our separate practices, emotion.
Did the growing popularity of each episode affect how you approached the project at all?
Orian: Most definitely! It started as a pure spontaneous thing, and when we got attention for it we were scared that it would make it less casual, which it did. However we learned that we can still be very intuitive in our creative process even when things are less spontaneous. I always thought that spontaneous equals intuitive, but it doesn't. So that was really nice to practice, because it allowed us to make each episode a little more ambitious without losing the genuine joy of creating it.
I wanted to ask about your collaboration. What's the process like to develop, write, shoot and edit these videos?
Orian: It's so fun, we know each other and each other's practice so well but we never collaborated before. It was fun because we trust each other's opinions.
We made everything together, really, but in practicality -
Meriem: Orian made up most story structures and then we would write together and record voices. Then Orian would make a radio edit. Then I would animate after she lip synced the characters to the dialogs. Orian would shoot the video backgrounds, actually we both did but she likes to go outside more than I do so she did more often. I would do the compositing of the characters to the video backgrounds and build 3D environments for locations we couldn't film like an airplane or a hospital or a restaurant.
Orian: When we made an episode we would do it over a few days in a row. Once we started it, it was the only thing we would do until it's finished. Which was easy because we both had all our work postponed due to the pandemic.
Lastly, you recently posted the "2 Lizards" season finale… What’s next?
Our 2 Lizards Long Sleeve Trash Tee is available exclusively as preorder, until July 23! All proceeds go to Survived and Punished, a grassroots coalition working to end the criminalization of survivors of domestic and sexual violence.