Miss Nelly Ben Hayoun

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My practice-based PhD research is a critical examination of the Design of Experiences through the exploration of two examples of my work; projects titled, the International Space Orchestra (2012-13) and Disaster Playground (2013-15). The written thesis is presented in addition to screenings of two feature-length films that both document and are the result of these two projects: the International Space Orchestra (2013) and Disaster Playground (2015). The written document includes an extended appendix, which details other works that have been made as part of their development.

My research argues that the Design of Experiences is a practice and method that combines critical design, critical thinking and performance in the production of research and social actions in the context of the institution NASA. Focusing on these two examples of my work, and working with the ideas of political philosophers and other partners in crime, my research offers an interrogation of how the practice of the Design of Experiences can propose a social and political critique of the power structures in the American Space Programme.

In 1957, political philosopher Hannah Arendt feared ‘human alienation’ following the launch of the first satellite, Sputnik. For her, engineers and scientists are only the makers of materials things. They are the Animal Laborans: ‘thoughtless creatures at the mercy of every gadget’ (Arendt, 1957, p.3). They need guidance and critical thinking. This can only be provided by politicians, which she referred to as Homo Faber. She differentiates two images of people at work: the Animal Laborans (how?) from the Homo Faber (why?). Using Arendt’s characterisation, my research explores how the practice and method of the Design of Experiences can support decision-making processes and render possible a performance of politics, a shift from Animal Laborans to Homo Faber in the context of the institution. Experimenting with public engagement mechanics, the two projects, International Space Orchestra and Disaster Playground, document how this shift from Animal Laborans to Homo Faber can be amplified by the Design of Experiences but also how it can offer critical reflection on scientists’ research and bring their work to public attention.

While the International Space Orchestra proposes a mode of experiential space outreach inspired by Greek Tragedy, Disaster Playground unravels systems of operations and emergency procedures inside NASA.

Exploring these two examples in terms of i) their development as a model of critical research practice, ii) their critical challenges to the hierarchy at NASA, and iii) their possibilities for public engagement; I investigate how the Design of Experiences works through embodied politics and public engagement mechanics, theatrical practices and existentialism. As such, my research argues that the Design of Experiences is a political practice and method that provokes social action in the craft of space exploration.

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