Disegno Feature Nelly Ben Hayoun

March 2017, London, UK

Nelly Ben Hayoun has been interviewed by Disegno Daily discussing Brexit in the UK. 

Words by Disegno and Nelly Ben Hayoun. To read the full article follow this link. 

“Brexit means Brexit.” This mantra has been repeated by the British prime minister Theresa May ever since the UK narrowly voted to leave the European Union on 23 June 2016. The exact form that this disentanglement from the EU will take remains unclear, although Article 50 – Britain's route to a formal exit from the EU – is to be triggered tomorrow.

Post-referendum, Disegno collaborated with the designer Faye Toogood on a series of portraits reflecting the contribution of non-UK nationals to London’s diverse creative industries. The portraits, published in Disegno #13, were accompanied by a short text from each sitter, reflecting on what the rhetoric of Brexit means for them. Many of the featured practitioners operate internationally, but each is based in London and each has been affected by the Brexit vote.

The project was developed in conjunction with London-based designer Faye Toogood, whose work is currently the subject of a solo exhibition on display at Friedman Benda gallery, New York. Since 2013, Faye and her sister Erica have operated Toogood, a unisex brand whose garments are inspired by the workwear of traditional professions.

To highlight the practices of the sitters rather than the nationalities, for Disegno #13 Toogood created a series of garments in calico that represent the various trades in abstract terms. The garments are archetypes. They celebrate the knowledge, skills, and culture that non-UK citizens have brought to London’s creative industries, as well as acknowledging the absence their loss would precipitate. 

On the occasion of Faye Toogood: Assemblage 5 opening at Friedman Benda in late-February, Disegno is delighted to publish an extended version of one of the reflections, penned by Nelly Ben Hayoun. 

Ben Hayon's reflection is accompanied by a portrait of the designer, photographed by Kevin Davies in her flat in Clapton, east London.

To be honest, I can’t even pronounce it, that silly word that to me sounds more grotesque than real. When confronted with this vulgar word, “Brexit”, I prefer to think of the words and sounds that are unique to the UK, and which have a distinctly British pronunciation. I love the sound of “cocoon”, for example, and the way the British say it (“co-cooooon”), and “belly button”. There are myriad other unique pronunciations that my mother tongue – French – will never let me pronounce. 

In 2008 I went to see Laughing in a Foreign Language, an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. Various artists gave their version of what laughter meant for them and their culture. “In a time of increasing globalisation,” the accompanying pamphlet read, “this international exhibition questions whether humour can only be appreciated by people with similar cultural, political or historical backgrounds and memories, or whether laughter can act as a catalyst for understanding that which is not familiar.” 

There was no doubt in my mind that laughing was a shared experience that transcends difference and language. It got me thinking so much that I made it my practice to be a designer of such experiences – those that involve humour, politics and theatre. These experiences, and the way that they are designed, are to be shared. They basically are humans in all rough forms. Over my years in the UK developing this practice, I have shared laughs in Franglish, Spanglish, Swenglish and all the other glitch-glishes you can think of. And then suddenly I stopped laughing. 

Even the most optimistic person was hit by the results of 23 June. While the British summer was ongoing, I experienced a deep sad fog in which I could see nothing but utter foolishness. In 1969, George Perec wrote a book called A Void, in which he deleted the letter “e” from the entirety of the text. I aim to be as radical. I want to propose that we delete “Brexit” absolutely and completely from our vocabulary. It is most urgent. The coming generations will think of it as a word not great enough to be a part of the English language – one that should remain invisible for the decades to come.

Recently, I was invited to sign Dezeen’s Brexit Design Manifesto, but I could not face the fact that there’s even a reason to sign it, discussing it using the term was not even possible for me. I have been protesting and have been behind social actions against Brexit, but I can't face its existence. Why was this, I wondered? Signing that Brexit Design Manifesto was like resigning myself to accept it. Today, I still believe that it is not done yet. It has and must be reversed; we must delete that word from our shared language and culture.

I am not sure for how much longer I can keep it going, but I have muted that word in my brain and soul. Do not worry I know it is here; it is like a dirty grey goo that sticks. What I prefer to do is to walk on it, to engineer its disappearance, to act as an intelligent agent and to plot for it to remain in the history book as a symbol of the British "oops, ooh la la".