Working Hard and Playing Harder with Dr. Nelly Ben Hayoun

Nelly Ben Hayoun, the Willy Wonka of Extreme Experience Design, combines scientific experiments with artistic experience. You will likely find her in a science lab or an art studio wearing a patched-up utility jumpsuit and gold hoop earrings. Ten years and fifteen jobs later, she exclusively spills the behind the scenes secrets in finding success and achievement through her journey in the design industry.

She begins her story by sharing her personal experience with city nightlife. “My best Installations came when I was running a nightclub!” The lights, the music— it inspired her first major (and low-budget) installation Super K Sonic Boooum. Metallic balloons line a large-scale shaft, cradling, lab scientists in a cramped row boat. It’s impossible not to think of that infamous boat ride scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. “My friends and I became good friends with the fire department!” she joked. She found herself networking within her community— photographers, social workers and even astronauts to name a few. The more curious she became, the greater she yearned to reach out into the world of science.

After dappling with drawings and illustrations, Hayoun developed an idea to create a rocketship chair. “I wanted to blast people off into outer space from their living rooms.” The hunt for an astronaut finally concluded when she reached out to French Air Force officer Jean-Pierre Haigneré, who agreed to work with Hayoun on the celestial creation of the Soyuz Chair. When displaying her chair at the Science Gallery in Dublin, its noise was so immense that it was impossible for the audience not to stop and experience the planetary recliner for themselves. “Everyone has ideas,” said Hayoun. “The most successful people are the ones who can bring that idea to life.”

Every one of Hayoun’s creations revolved around two simple principles. Experience and a really great idea to be brought to life. “An abundance of experiences can be tied together by one simple question that you want to answer,” she explained. The more encounters an artist faces, the more room for experimentation. “I have five or six projects going at once,” Hayoun said. “When the time is right, I take action.”

One of the most exciting experiments was a collaboration between her and her pyrotechnic roommate, covered by BBC News. The video recording showed her opened apartment window with smoke billowing out, followed by her roomate tinkering with a tangle of wires. “It’s funny because he was making gunpowder on live tv.” She laughed. The installation of The Other Volcano, was basically an epic recast of your fifth grade baking-soda volcano. “I want the public to access the surreal and fantastical in science.” If fireworks and smoke in an living room isn’t a fantastical sight, we’re not sure what is.

The importance of process is crucial in the design industry. Every great idea stems from curiosity, preparation and persistence through fear of failure. Rejection and roadblocks are inevitable. “I ask myself, what would my favorite artist do? How would they handle this situation? That’s how I persevere.”

Written by Anna Vescovi

Photo by Coco Hubbeling

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