On Thursday 4 April, during the annual Gala at Eye Filmmuseum
in Amsterdam, Meriem Bennani was announced the winner of the Eye Art & Film Prize 2019 by the Dutch Minister of Culture Ingrid van Engelshoven. The award comes with a GBP 25,000 cash prize to be used to create new work. According to Sandra den Hamer, director of Eye Filmmuseum and chair of the jury, the artist receives the prize for her Inventive way of making films and the way she succeeds in challenging the documentary genre and disrupting it in a surrealist manner.
The aim of the Eye Prize, an initiative from Eye Filmmuseum and the Paddy & Joan Leigh Fermor Arts Fund, is each year to support an artist or filmmaker whose work has made an exceptional contribution to new developments at the intersection of visual art and film.
Based in New York, Meriem Bennani was chosen from a list of nominees put forward by an international advisory board. Born in Rabat in Morocco in 1988, Bennani is a pioneering video artist who deploys new digital techniques in her installations and films to engage the public in her stories.
Bennani was chosen as winner of the Eye Art & Film Prize in view of her contribution to the development of new forms of making and presenting film. She excels at translating contemporary subjects and taboos in areas such as gender, identity, migration, biotechnology and religion into a high-tech idiom of augmented reality with inventive 3D animations, installations and environments.
A notable aspect of her work is the light and often absurdly comic tone, sometimes with a magic realist undercurrent, that Bennani uses to bring her subjects to life. She challenges viewers to reassess their assumptions, viewing habits and cultural-political orientation, though never in an aggressive or self-righteous manner.
The artist, who studied in both Paris and New York, has attracted attention in recent years with her sensational multimedia installations, videos and drawings. Her work highlights a North African representation of cultures, the displacement of migrants, and the effect of the digital revolution on how reality is experienced. Bennani is especially interested in the world of commercials, reality television and narrative documentary.
The fake reality television show Fardaous Funjab (2014), for example, features a designer who makes camp. The video installation FLY (2017) is a multi-layered choreography of fragmented images in which a 3D-animated fly buzzes through Bennanis home city, enters into conversation with members of the artists family, and sometimes bursts into a totally distorted version of Rihannas song Kiss It Better. In her most recent installation, Party on the CAPS (2018), the leading role is played by Fiona, a slightly eccentric crocodile who talks about life on the imaginary island of CAPS, a refugee camp for illegal aliens who have been caught during their teleportation (airplanes are a thing of the past).
Bennani presents her work in large, room-filling installations. She arranges screens and huge sculptural elements very precisely, and then projects her images onto them by means of very careful mapping, immersing visitors in an overwhelming multicoloured steam of images as they move through the space.
Voice of a generation
Sandra den Hamer, director of Eye Filmmuseum and chair of the jury for the Eye Art & Film Prize, spoke on behalf of the jury:
The visually stunning work of the pioneering video artist Meriem Bennani shows her inventive way of making films. By mapping customizing a projection for out-of-the-ordinary surfaces and adding sound and image, she reprogrammes her original material and lends it new meaning. Through her playful style of digital distortion and surrealist disruption, she not only challenges the traditional documentary form but often approaches sensitive subjects with unexpected humour and freshness. That makes Bennani an important voice of her generation.
Meriem Bennanis work has been presented at MoMA PS1, Art Dubai and the Centre d'Art Contemporain Genève (Biennale de lImage en Mouvement).