Interview- April 2011

The Other Volcano on DON'T PANIC - Interview read here

“Would you be more popular if you had a volcano in your front room?” asks young designer / artist / mad-scientist Nelly Ben-Hayoun. With the recognisably ambitious "well, why not?" attitude that's becoming signature to the Royal College of Art's new Design Interactions course, Ben-Hayoun tackles the (presumably legion) practical issues with simulating an ultralocal tectonic shift in her lounge and creating dark matter in her kitchen sink.

Volcanoes in people’s front rooms! Would you describe yourself as a quiet person?

Ha ha! Very good question! I think I am the opposite of quiet - which usually put me into trouble, especially in England where things are quietly said and usually said by metaphors. 

You worked with an explosives expert - did you get background checked first?

For Other Volcano I worked with explosive expert Austin Houldsworth and Dr Carina Fearnley, volcanologist. Both were very skilled and knowledgeable.

The first volcano is in my flat which is a story in itself. Firstly, I have flatmates so it has been a serious decision taken all together. Secondly, my landlord's office is actually a floor below my flat - truly a nightmare. We didn’t know if the volcano would burn through the floor and end up in his office! 

Unfortunately, the first version was rather unsafe! When erupting, we still didn't fully control the explosion and it seriously burnt the carpet. So we’ve added magnesium to make more 'flakes' and dust.

Having the volunteers to host the volcano hopefully provides answers to questions such as - how would you deal with a live volcano in the middle of your living room? Would you ignore it? Would you wrap it up? Would you try to destroy it? Would you just disconnect it from the mains? Would you be more popular because you share your life with a volcano?

The Other Volcano has moved across a number of locations and it is now in display at Space in Between.

What role do you believe art should play in people’s lives?

I am not here to decide for everyone else, but I do think that art shoould mean experiencing something that is part of the 'infra-ordinary', something which is half real, half science fiction. If art, design, literature can give us a real access to our fantasy then I think their role is essential. I think passion for me is actually what comes before art.

If you had unlimited funds what would you construct?

If this was to happen, I think I would create the ‘Unlimited Funds Institute’, I will make it so artists and designers can do their work, without begging for money all the time. This is the only job where everyone thinks that we can do everything with £1! Obviously the ‘Unlimited Fund Institute’ will be part of an attraction park which will sit between the moon and Jupiter and that we could access with a lift covered in blue velvet. There you can experience weightlessness while eating with yetis, talking to stone marten, swimming in the lava, blowing up some concrete bubbles, riding a cloud and flying like Icarus on the latitude zero degrees!

Is the Large Hadron Collider sabotaging itself from the future?

Or do you mean that the Large Hadron Collider is trying to remake the future to be back in the past? Well I think that nobody knows really. They are trying to do something fantastic - recreate the first second after the Big Bang!

Believe it or not but most scientists’ work is based on speculation. 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 questions like, ‘what is the ‘multiverse’?’, and be able to explain it to the public. Designers and physicists can understand each other very well as we are working in the same language of faith and trust. We both follow creative instincts and keep looking and building huge experiments to study. For me, the meeting of these two worlds makes perfect sense as we share a fascination of the unknown.