Nelly Ben Hayoun takes us 1,750 metres underground

1 March 2017

For the fourth consecutive year, It’s Nice That has media partnered with Design Indaba. We will be delivering news, highlights, interviews and reaction direct from each day of the three-day conference from Cape Town. This year promises to be bigger and better than ever, with fashion designer Selly Raby Kane leading the art direction for Design Indaba’s Nightscape. The event will be live broadcast via simulcast to a handful of South African cities, allowing each presentation to resonate around the country. Design Indaba will also be hosting the first-ever European simulcast at ECAL in Lausanne, Switzerland.

London-based, French-born experience designer Nelly Ben Hayoun is something of a force to be reckoned with, so it’s only fitting that her Design Indaba presentation promises to be equally high impact. Exclusively for It’s Nice That, Nelly gives us a sneak preview into her presentation on The Life, The Sea and the Space Viking which she will be performing this Friday at Design Indaba.

Not one for a lacklustre powerpoint, Nelly’s presentation sent her journeying deep beneath South African soil. “I went to the Zondereinde platinum mine to collect samples for my presentation,” she explains. The Zondereinde mine is found in South Africa’s Limpopo province in the north of the country province bordering Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, about 240km away from Johannesburg. The mine is the deepest platinum mine in the world, with an average mining depth of 1,750m underground.

“I have done lots of expeditions in the past as I believe that to design meaningful experiences, you must engage both with communities and countercultures but also with fieldwork. You can find me close to rockets in USA, deep down in the Silfra Fissure in Iceland, in a salt mine Salina Turda in Romania, in Super Kamikande in Japan or colliding atoms at SLAC!”

“Zondereine means ’never ends’ in Dutch," Nelly says. “The mine is known also for its unique microorganism named The Worms of Hell which were discovered by one of the collaborators of the project I am presenting at Design Indaba, Professor Tullis Onstott.”

Getting to the mine was easier said than done. “I had to drive on a side of the road that I was not very familiar with for four hours. I got lost in the midst of nowhere and finally made it to the mine in one piece! I went two kilometres underground and collected some samples. As you know, my team and I have just launched the University of the Underground (taking applications until 1 April), so the team at NBH Studios and I spend a lot of time under the earth at the moment!”

“Currently finishing its development phase, The Life, the Sea and the Space Viking is our latest production,” Nelly tells us of the project behind her upcoming presentation. "A space odyssey and a viking saga 11km under the sea, the project documents a submersible expedition and an encounter with our biological archeology. Merging the fields of astrobiology, terraforming and the research of extremophiles, it is an expedition of uncharted territories, encompassing all scales of science, but also inspiring questions of humanities’ place in the universe, the project ultimately explores the science of space colonisation.

“The project features leading scientists at NASA and the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute and documents a submersible expedition: as we learn from life on Earth, how to create life on another planet. The project has completed its research and development phase, and I am currently fundraising for this Viking adventure. I will divide the presentation in acts, and there are lots of surprises as part of it. It is a multi-media performative presentation, and as well as the worms of hell, there might well be a boat on stage too…”

Nelly tells us that during the event she will also be joining Design Indaba MC and brilliant designer Michael Beirut to discuss the launch of the University of the Underground. “I will announce some big news with my long term partners in crime WeTransfer with whom I’ve worked as Chief of Experiences since 2013,” Nelly says. “So do check this out! With the aim of teaching students how to engineer situations and design experiences and events that best support social dreaming and social actions within institutions and within fringes, the University of the Underground supports unconventional multidisciplinary practices, chaos and experimentations at the start of any creative processes. The University of the Underground is based in the underground of the urban space, it is lead by a multidisciplinary team of ‘dreamers of the day’, who believe that positive inspiration and disturbance in the cultural and educative system is required to best support the young generations in their creative and political endeavours, the university is bold, ambitious and impolite. It teaches students how to reclaim their future and ownership of public institutions, to design experiences that best support power shifts in and outside institutions. It uses critical design, theatrical and musical practices and the performance of politics in order to do so.”

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About the Author

Bryony Stone

Bryony joined It's Nice That as Deputy Editor in August 2016, following roles at Mother, Secret Cinema, LAW, Rollacoaster and Wonderland. She later became Acting Editor at It's Nice That, before leaving in late 2018.

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