Creativity Comes From Conflict - Interview With Nelly Ben Hayoun

14 March 2017

Nelly Ben Hayoun is cool, quirky and creative. The creator of the International Space Orchestra, designer of experiences and award-winning director brings lessons learned from the  science  and  design  worlds straight into the corporate space. Here Nelly discusses in our interview what she is doing next, and where she gets her inspiration

What projects are you currently working on?

Life at NBH Studios has been an absolute whirlwind in the last few months. I am currently putting the finishing touched to my PhD; we have done a HUGE event with the International Space Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl as part of Sigur Ros concert; and we are working on multiple projects with all our very unique partners, AIGA LA, UN, McSweeneys, and XL Recordings. All of these projects are in the making at the moment so it is … well, insane!

In 2017, we also hope to set sail for our latest project The Life, The Sea, and The Space Viking. We are currently fundraising for this monster project after just finishing the Research and Development. It is a submersible ‘Space Odyssey’ on board a Viking ship at -11km underwater to collect forms of life in the most extreme places of our world for potential outer space colonisation…. YES ALL THAT. It encompasses space colonisation, a creative vision, and talks through ethics, and it aims to create a unique and provocative conversation between techno-archaeologists, Vikings, artists, and scientists.

This project will bring together both scales: deep under the sea to the greatest height of outer space. It’s merging the fields of astrobiology, terraforming, and the research of extremophiles. It aims to engage the public with one of the greatest and most urgent debates of our history: Where shall we go next and should we, or not, send life to colonise outer space?

Your projects are extremely innovative and daring. Where do you get your creative inspiration from?

Ideas are everywhere. It's the most human skill we have: imagination. It’s also a ‘muscle’. All of us have ideas, but the most difficult part is to make them a reality — to filter them, to edit them, to transfer them and then to deliver them. That’s where the ‘creative’ starts for me. Having ideas is not complex, making them happen is the hard bit.

I cook, run and do everything whilst thinking up ideas. It never stops. Everything is an inspiration, but, again, the rest comes from hard work, ethics, production, trial and error and research. It requires permanent focus and no compromise.

Curiosity is a part of it too. Bottom line is that I am an optimist, and I truly believe that everything can be achieved through hard work, passion and true curiosity.

Nelly believes that curiosity plays a big part in innovation

As a speaker, what message do you hope your audience will take away with them?

Absolutely, under no circumstances, take no for an answer. Work out the politics and systems to make it happen, and never give up.

If you could speak at any event in the past or present, what would it be and why?

I would love to have been involved with Antonin Artaud and his concept of the theatre of cruelty. In the early 20th century, Artaud, bored with conventional theatre, came up with a radical new way to interact with the public. By creating immersive and sensory conditions, he aimed to provoke irrational impulses and stimulate honest reactions from the audience. Or, as theatre critic and author Albert Bermel described it, the audience “would surrender themselves to a performance, live through it and feel it, rather than merely think about it.”

I have adopted some of his philosophy by taking an extreme approach. You really get the public to actively engage with a cause or with research, and that is what motivates me with space exploration, for example, which is one of my fields of interest. I like to consider these unusual experiential and theatrical practices as the start of education and outreach.

Nelly with the Space Orchestra

Have any of your experiments not gone to plan, and how did you manage this situation?

Everything is always a challenge; that’s the way I roll. I get bored otherwise. I like complexity and huge, difficult productions.

As I mentioned before, nothing is impossible. It’s simply a question of organisation and planning.

Ultimately, because of the scale of each production, nothing ever goes to plan...which is why I always have 5 to 10 plans in place!

When taking on a project, I’ll go into someone’s office and try to find a way to challenge the interviewee. If you’re an expert in your discipline, you’ll get annoyed when a designer questions or challenges your research and the creativity comes from that conflict. I think the biggest barrier is the notion of ‘polite’ collaboration. There is a connect between art and science and design but they are not merging. The innovation comes from conflict between these disciplines, rather than working politely and harmoniously together. That, in itself, is an extremely fine line to walk along, and a constant challenge to negotiate, but one that I absolutely relish.


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