Born in Mascara, Algeria in March 1957, from a father killed before his birth in the Algerian independence war. He moved to France in 1958, following his mother and his brother, to live in popular suburbs in north Paris where the familly stayed during most of his childhood.
Video art and computer graphics
Taught in Contemporary and Fine Arts, Benayoun’s practice rapidly moves to photography, video and computer graphics. In the 80’s, Benayoun directed video installations and short videos about contemporary artists, including Daniel Buren (1983), Jean Tinguely, Sol LeWitt and Martial Raysse (1985). He keeps from is Fine Arts background, a critical and conceptual approach of practice. In 1987 he co-founds Z-A Production (1987-2003), an innovative computer graphics and Virtual Reality private lab, that became one of the leading companies in France in the field during this pioneering time. This is where he started exploring the potential of the most advanced media. Between 1990 and 1993, Benayoun collaborated with Belgian graphic novelist François Schuiten on Quarxs, the first animation series made of HD computer graphics, exploring variant creatures with alternate physical laws. From the pilot (1991) to the series broadcast in prime time in 1993, Quarxs received numerous international awards.
Interactive Art, Virtual and Augmented Reality
In 1993, he received the Villa Medicis Hors Les Murs award for his Art After Museum project, a virtual reality contemporary art collection. After 1994 Benayoun was involved with more virtual-reality and interactive-art installations. One important work from this period includes The Tunnel under the Atlantic, completed in 1995. For his first solo show, Maurice Benayoun, was presenting a Virtual Reality installation linking two big museums: the Pompidou Center in Paris and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montreal. More than a technical performance, that it was too as the first intercontinental virtual reality artwork (called “televirtuality”, Philippe Quéau, 1994), this installation was one-of-a-kind example of what Maurice Benayoun calls architecture of communication, another way to explore the limits of communication presaging the rise of the phatic in human communication.
World Skin, a Photo Safari in the Land of War, created together with the composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière, is an immersive installation often presented as a reference in virtual art. One of the first virtual reality work with a specific content: the relation between, war, personal engagement, and memory, World Skin was awarded the Golden Nica, Ars Electronica 1998, the major distinction in interactive arts.
Interactive exhibition design
The Navigation Room (1997, exhibition New Image, New Networks) and The Membrane (2001) were created for the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in Paris. The Navigation Room, could be considered as the prototype of the interactive educative exhibition, deeply immersive, with highly personalized visits and content generating a web page dedicated to each visitor. The Membrane (2001) — the core of the exhibition Man Transformed — was a large surface breathing and feeling the presence of the visitors, digesting and distributing information in constant physical dialog with the public. Benayoun defined this as organic design. The Panoramic Tables for the Planet of Visions pavilion for Hanover EXPO2000, directed by François Schuiten, was an innovative application of augmented reality. In 2006, with the architect Christophe Girault, they created War and Peace, the permanent exhibition inside the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, that opened in February 2007. War and Peace questioned the significance of a national monument dedicated to Napoleon’s Army. The exhibition was destroyed in fall 2018, during the Yellow vest movement in Paris. After Art Impact (Pompidou Center, Paris, 2000) where he used for the first time VR binoculars to share the experience of watching (the Collective Retinal Memory) Benayoun conceived and directed the exhibition Cosmopolis, Overwriting the City (2005), a large scale art and science immersive installation presented during the French Year in China in Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, and Chongqing. This immersive exhibition received in Shanghai up to more than ten thousand visitors per day. This was Maurice Benayoun’s first experience in China, and the reception by the public played an important role in later Benayoun’s move to Asia. Benayoun initiated in 2005 the series of works Mechanics of Emotions presents the Internet as the world nerve system and world emotions as a possible material for the new metaphoric model of the economy. In this series, Benayoun produced many installations and urban art projects during the 10 years that followed.
Urban Media Art
Benayoun started to work on urban media in 2002, with Watch Out! in Seoul, an urban installation about surveillance commissioned by the Art Center Nabi. In 2008, he exhibits in Shanghai streets NeORIZON, a large-scale urban installation that converts the public into QR codes that become the building blocks of the city. From the series Mechanics of Emotions, he produced many urban screen artworks, Emotion Forecast (2011, Paris, 2012 New York, Sao Paulo, Berlin, Melbourne, Hong Kong). To extend his vision of Urban Media Art, Maurice Benayoun launched in 2014, as a curator, the Open Sky Project, inviting artists (the Open Sky Gallery), and MFA students (the Open Sky Campus) to conceive and present works for one of the largest screens in the world at the time, the Hong Kong ICC media façade (70,000 sqm). This program offered to more than 100 artists and students, the opportunity to exhibit their work in the public space. The ICC media façade represents about half the surface of the Hong Kong Skyline video displays.
Education, teaching, and lectures
To finance his studies, he became in 1978, a secondary school teacher in fine arts and literature. Benayoun graduated in Fine Arts (Pantheon-Sorbonne University) in the early 1980s, when he was already teaching full time. He was awarded in 1982 with Aggregation d’Arts Plastiques, a highly competitive degree in the French education system leading to a tenure position, opening the doors of University teaching. From 1984 to 2010 he was an assistant professor at Paris 1 University, Pantheon-Sorbonne, where he was co-founder and art director of the CITU research center (Création Interactive Transdisciplinaire Universitaire) together with Paris 8 University. CiTu, dedicated to research and creation (R&C) in the emerging forms of art, is where he developed many National, European and International collaborative Art and Science research programs. In 1995 – 1997, Benayoun was the Invited Artist and Professor at ENSBA, the French National School of Fine Arts. In 2008 Maurice Benayoun submitted his blog, The Dump, a dump of undone art projects, as a doctorate thesis entitled: Artistic Intentions at Work, Hypothesis for Committing Art at Université Paris 1, La Sorbonne. Supervised by Prof. Anne-Marie Duguet, the PhD thesis was awarded “mention très honorable, avec felicitations du jury” (First-Class Honors with Distinction). The defense in front of an international examination panel, published in 2011, was a performance fully video recorded.
In 2010, Benayoun became an associate professor at Paris 8 University, where he founds (2011) H2H Lab (the Human to Human Lab), a cluster of public and private labs envisioning art as an advanced form of human mediations. The same year he co-founds Arts-H2H Labex (Lab of Excellence) a research lab lead by Paris 8 University. In August 2012, he becomes full Professor in the School of Creative Media of City University of Hong Kong. He is Chair of the School of Graduate Studies and the PhD programme (2014-2018).
Maurice Benayoun gave more than 300 invited and Keynote lectures in major universities and international conferences. This includes Columbia University, Cornell, Duke, UCLA, UCSD, UCSB, SFAI, Parsons School of Design, University of Toronto, UCL, Goldsmiths, Ecole Polytechnique, ENS Ulm, Keio University, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Tsinghua University, to name but a few.