Disaster Playground

Text by Nelly Ben Hayoun for the Blowup Reader 7, Outer Space as Extreme Scenario (2013).

Disaster Playground

Disaster Playground, Graphics by David Benqué, Protoplot.com


“This is most urgent”- Hans-Ulrich Obrist to Nelly Ben Hayoun
(Serpentine Gallery, London, July 2013)

Disaster Playground investigates future outer space catastrophes and the design of procedures to manage them and assess the risks. With a cutting edge approach and through re-enactment of off-nominal situations by teams of space experts, designer of experiences at the SETI Institute Ben Hayoun is now working on a new challenge. Known as ‘The Willy Wonka of design and science”, she will question what the space programme could be if members of the public were to share its human condition – the dilemmas faced by scientists over discovery and decision-making under pressure. From meteor showers to extraterrestrial signals, from frogs escaping experiments on board of the ISS and worms surviving the Challenger explosion to a volcanic eruption on Jupiter’s satellite, Disaster Playground documents the edge of space fiction. Working with experts in Near Earth Objects (NEO), Disaster and Rescue Assistance (DART), the SETI Institute and with a all star team of composers and writers, Ben Hayoun is archiving disaster mitigation responses, unexpected failure systems and adversity in the space programme based on interviews, reflexions and re-enactments by a team of casted space experts: Deputy Director of Lunar Science Institute Greg Schmidt, Specialist of meteors showers Dr Peter Jenniskens, Specialist of Extraterrestrial Intelligence Dr. Jill Tarter and Dr. Seth Shostak, astronomer and planetary scientist Dr. Franck Marchis, Dr. David Morrison, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute and more.
Disaster Playground is a ‘theatre of cruelty’ as defined by Antonin Artaud, a platform where scientific catastrophe and/or surprise can be more acclaimed than success. This cross and pluri-cultural project will go beyond American and European frontiers and will question the notion of disasters, widely represented in the literature of J.G Ballard and will investigate rescue reactions across culture.

Disaster Playground follows the successful International Space Orchestra, which is a ground-breaking collaborative project that Ben Hayoun is currently directing at NASA Ames Research Center and the SETI Institute in California. It is an experiential and hybrid research laboratory, where space scientists have been invited to implement, deconstruct, perform, sing, mix, modify, and design musical acts in various scientific setup. It is a provocation to action: a call to imagine and disrupt future human relations to science;to adapt science to our creative needs. It involves leading space scientists – including the Deputy Director of NASA Ames and astronaut Yvonne Cagle, and composers such as Bobby Womack, Penguin Café and Beck have already collaborated on the project. In January 2013, the International Space Orchestra feature film had its world premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival where it was acclaimed by the critic as a “masterpiece” (Independent Cinema Office, ICO), a “real achievement” (DOMUS),”as thrilling as watching a rocket launch” and “Spine Tingling” (The Guardian).

www.nellyben.com - www.groundcontrol-opera.com

In Disaster Playground, we explore what the space program would look like if we were to share its catastrophes and failures. If Neil Armstrong’s picture in NASA’s official sites were replaced by the quirkiness, the failure, and pictures of problems that previously happened, what sort of human condition and emotions would that evoke?

While the famous image of the ball of flame that is the Challenger disaster created a real public consciousness, it also re-ignited interest into the space program. Our interest for such mortal catastrophe can be identified as a perverse human curiosity. We believe that this perversity captures one crucial element of what the viewer wishes to see: how technology and humans can beautifully ‘fail’and in turn, cause us to reflect on the making behind our discoveries.

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