20 brilliant ideas to change our lives in 2015

The Observer_ December 2014

Disaster Playground in The Observer’s Tech Monthly 20 brilliant ideas to change our lives in 2015,

Published on newspaper and on web on Sunday 7th December.

Read the full article here

20 innovations for 2015

Words by Leah Harper for the Observer and Tech Monthly.

“Basically it is a monster,” says Nelly Ben Hayoun in an attempt to explain her upcoming project, Disaster Playground. The French experimental film-maker’s latest endeavour is multifaceted, but centres on a documentary. It explores the design of emergency procedures in the space programme, the cause of a potential crisis being not a monster but, most likely, an asteroid. “The idea is to build something a bit more unusual. We are looking at all the various platforms to distribute the film, to try and make something different,” she says.

Ben Hayoun uses Disaster Playground to introduce audiences to the reality of planetary defence, and the real space experts responsible for averting such disasters. The film follows the path of decision-making from organisations such as the Seti Institute and Nasa all the way to the UN, re-enacting scenarios for the deflection of near Earth objects, as well as other space-related catastrophes.

The feature film is set for release in March 2015, with a gaming app based on scenes from the documentary in the pipeline, along with a site-specific “immersive experience” and a touring exhibition. Ben Hayoun is in talks with publishers regarding a series of Disaster Playground books, and a concert from Ed Banger Records, which provided the soundtrack, is also planned.

Ben Hayoun, who is also designer of experiences for Seti and head of experiences at WeTransfer, has never been afraid of a challenge. Having previously created miniature volcanoes for living rooms, a “small science equivalent” of the Large Hadron Collider in her kitchen, and assembled a group of space scientists into the world’s first International Space Orchestra, she says she approaches her work from a human, rather than a scientific perspective.

With both Jean Baudrillard’s America and the work of JG Ballard cited as points of influence, Ben Hayoun’s commitment to realism is infused with creativity – and she has a penchant for employing dramatic devices. An oversized version of the red phone – often symbolic of the supposed hotline from the White House to Moscow – is used to construct Ben Hayoun’s very own Theatre of Cruelty by presenting an “enhanced double” of real life to provoke a response from her subjects. “It’s not about being gentle; I’m very pushy,” she says. “A lot of the scientists would say, ‘Oh, I’m just here to provide people with data.’ But I say, ‘Look, you’re one of the 20 scientists who has a say before it reaches the UN … Is it that we send a nuclear bomb to the asteroid? There is a real concern about what, actually, we are to do.’ Then, of course, they explain what it means to be in their shoes.”