‘Party on the CAPS’
“‘I was researching quantum physics and biotechnology when Donald Trump issued his travel ban at the end of 2017,’ artist Meriem Bennani told Art in America magazine last month. Watching videos online,” writes Erin Schwartz, “she became interested in quantum teleportation—physicists have succeeded in transporting quantum units—information about the precise state of an atom or particle—linking one photon in China to another in Vienna. Bennani began speculating, in the tradition of science fiction: Could we someday teleport people? When someone is disassembled and reassembled elsewhere, what is lost? Thinking of global migration, Bennani imagined the risky journey to another country via teleportation—how would American border police handle a technology that makes national boundaries physically insignificant?
The result is ‘Party on the CAPS,’ an exhibition of video and sculpture at Brooklyn’s Clearing Gallery. Visitors first encounter a block of low stadium seating upholstered in polyester faux crocodile skin; on a screen looming above, a video narrated by an animated crocodile provides a brief orientation. We are on the CAPS, short for “Capsule”: an island in the middle of the Atlantic where migrants arrested mid-teleportation by US immigration forces (called “Troopers”) are detained. The process wreaks fantastical damage on migrants’ bodies: some suffer from ailments like ‘plastic face syndrome’ or ‘mega ear,’ and some never rematerialize at all. Decades of legislative inaction have transformed the CAPS from a temporary holding area to a metropolis; three generations live there, and the islanders have their own currency, homegrown technology, jokes, and traditions.
In the second gallery, a video plays on walls curved like a skateboarding ramp, projection-mapped across sculptures that resemble a giant magnifying glass and a triangular piece of flotsam, which appears to sink into the floor. It tells the story of a birthday party in the Moroccan neighborhood of the CAPS. Bennani has described it as a documentary, and although the premise is science-fiction, much of it was filmed at a six-hour-long party she threw in Rabat and cast with her family and friends, who improvised their lines. Bennani’s mother, Amal, had a dress made—dark green and glittery, with a high neck and puffed sleeves, a ‘theatrical version of a caftan’—to look properly futuristic. Teenagers wear sweatpants and hoodies and offer vaguely embarrassed smiles when the camera focuses on them. A singer at the party is played by Khadija El Ouarzazia, an actual performer of Chaabi and Houara music, two Moroccan folk genres. The MC is played by Lil Patty, a Moroccan rapper and social media star.
The film has its surreal elements: the birthday girl is turning eighty, but has just undergone an expensive ‘rejuvenation’ surgery and looks a very brittle twenty; guests tip dancers by showering virtual coins from their hands; women gossip that an aunt must be dating a US Trooper because she was seen eating rare American M&Ms. But Bennani’s characterization of Party on the CAPS as a documentary emphasizes its depiction of a real event. Although the scenario is fictional, the film portrays an actual community and, in doing so, captures an experience of postcolonial dispossession and rage. ‘Whenever we throw a party, they send a fucking cop,’ the MC shouts into the mic. ‘For no reason! But we celebrate.’ He switches to Arabic. ‘Am I right?’ The crowd cheers back.
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