For Nelly Ben Hayon, the creator of a science come art installation 'Super K Sonic Boooum' at Manchester Science Festival, design is crucial part of storytelling and for her, that engaging narrative extends to explaining complex scientific processes. Her portfolio includes a scheme for generating dark matter in your sink; explorations of brain plasticity in snails, and an installation to recreate the experience of the first ten minutes of a space rocket lift-off sequence. 'Super K Sonic Boooum 2 Gold' is an installation mimicking the experience of a sonic boom at Japan’s Super-Kamiokande Neutrino Observatory. Dazed speaks to Hayon about her latest installation and the surprising similarities between a designer’s and a physicist’s working practices.
Dazed Digital: Why is it important to narrate science with design?
Nelly Ben Hayon: Often, science seems to be reserved for scientists - expert practitioners who alone have the privilege of experiencing the fringes of human knowledge and the extremes of nature. My work aims to combat this real or perceived aspect of science, by enlisting willing scientists in experiences that mix the creativity with technology, science with fiction, factual with artistic, amateur with expert.
I think that design must be engaging and therefore I am particularly interested in questioning that set up. I build installations to facilitate and encourage surreal interactions. I often perform in them in a way that allows me to have direct feedback and improve the experience for next time. I consider all the work I am doing as a massive pile of experiments. Every installation and project I am doing involves risks. I never know if I will achieve what I’m aiming for or if I’ll be able to give a valuable experience to the public until the day they are all there and we switch on the light.
DD: How will The SUPER K SONIC BOOOUM 2 GOLD recreate the experience of a sonic boom at Japan’s Super-Kamiokande Neutrino Observatory?
Nelly Ben Hayon: You need to look at it as a play, an act. When you sit down in a play you usually don’t think about how many times the actors have rehearsed their 100 pages text to make it, that’s the same for us. If the experience is a success then you will leave the Super K Sonic Boooum installation feeling dizzy and not quite sure about what happens there, you will feel on the top of 50 000 tonnes of super pure water, you will feel in danger, you will feel scared and sweaty. If the experience is a failure, you will see everything- the organization the background, the balloons, the fake swimming pool.
DD: What will the experience be like for those taking part?
Nelly Ben Hayon: Each person is different and reacts differently. The boat can only get two people by two, and even if I could have done a giant one, I would have chosen to do it this way. We like to give audiences time and attention - which doesn’t mean that we are always gentle, we like to stress them, hurry them, dress them…
DD: What inspired SUPER K SONIC BOOOUM 2 GOLD?
Nelly Ben Hayon: Well, It started on a train to France. I was reading through the “Obsession” page of Wired magazine, my favourite part of the magazine, two pages of pictures of a new experiment, or new technological invention. The pictures are usually as mind-blowing as the technology behind it. This is where I first saw the picture of the Super Kamiokande in Japan. I couldn’t believe it, and the title ‘Super Kamiokande’ sounded like the title of a new thriller movie. I could see two physicists on a dinghy on the water cleaning some sort of glass bubbles. I was completely fascinated.
I wanted to be there, I wanted to talk in there, the echo must be so loud, I wanted to swim in there. I later learned that this wasn’t only water, but ‘ultra pure water’ and if you actually go in there it will suck all the salt out of your body so it might not have been the best idea. So I started to imagine what it would be like if we could all go in there, what the experience would be like? The article also mentioned the sonic boooum- an explosion faster than the speed of light. I couldn’t even visualise or feel what this could be.
DD: Your work merges science, art and design, how easy has it been to merge these two different worlds?
Nelly Ben Hayon: Scientists are very open, and especially in physics. Believe it or not but most of their work is based on speculation. It is very hard to experiment most of the today’s theories of the universe. We are talking about the infinite small and how this modifies the infinite huge universe. The string theory is one of my favourites – the theory that a string in the 11th dimension is vibrating and generating matter. Dr Ben Still, and Dr Marieke Navin, will probably laugh of my first level understanding of the theory, but the fact is that most of the equation is made of an unknown ‘x’ as one of the main components.
I think that to be a physicist nowadays you need to be able to stretch your mind as much as possible and be inventive to figure out, what is the Big Bang, what is the multiverse? And to be able to explain it to the public while showing that soap is like the multiverse. Designers and physicists can understand each other very well, we are working in the same language of faith and trust. Designers and artists follow their creative instinct as much as physicists keep looking and building huge experiments to study and be able to experiment. For me, the meeting of these two worlds makes perfect sense; we are share a fascination of the unknown.
SUPER K SONIC BOOOUM 2 GOLD at the Manchester Science Festival 2010. 23 - 27 October 2010