Nelly Ben Hayoun in Action: Designing the Impossible

Designer and filmmaker Nelly Ben Hayoun is on a mission to bring chaos and subversion into the tidy and hierarchical world of science and design. She offers a new form of hyperrealistic experience with her two doppelgangers Aglaé and Anaïs Zebrowski.

The Nelly Ben Hayoun (NBH) Studios are known for designing the impossible: they allow anyone to become an astronaut in their own living room, while dark matter boils away in the kitchen and a volcano spews out lava on the couch. In her projects, Nelly Ben Hayoun focuses on how design and design processes can be used as critical platforms. This has earned her the nickname of the “Willy Wonka of design and science”. At this year’s re:publica, Ben Hayoun took it one step further.

She put on a live collage of design, film and postmodern performance theatre. The disassociation of two dopplegangers appearing from different directions in the room, as well as fireworks made from presentation slides in a comic style, fast talking and film, all came together to generate an experience that was both disconcerting and fascinating. With the concept of “language as a design feature”, Nelly Ben Hayoun followed the French philosopher Roland Barthes in her approach. The result is utopian performance from a tripartite personality that ties the audience to them.

She uses her projects to explore and deal with creative geography, contemporary mythology and politics. She founded the “University of the Underground” – the first university based in the hidden underground network of urban spaces, supporting unconventional research methods; or a Space Orchestra comprised of NASA pilots and space researchers. Her video series “Life, the sea and the space Viking” will be released soon, which takes place between a depth of eleven kilometres under the ocean and into space.

Nelly Ben Hayoun aims to incorporate her doppelgangers in further future performances and talks, so as to question concepts of space and time, as well as the ideas of efficiency that dominate our politics and economy. Her postmodern performances are live shows that are hard to resist. In an age of digital replicability of nearly all public events, Ben Hayoun’s performance at the re:publica was both anachronistic and forward-looking: Nelly Ben Hayoun and her doppelgangers present their own answer to the question of how people can be present everywhere and at all times.

by Miriam Seyd and Kerstin Grünewald (FF)

Photo credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner(CC BY-SA 2.0)