Methodologies: Beast from the East


Beast from the East was a project in 2012 based on a brief set by Nelly Ben Hayoun called Bureau Odyssey

In Nelly’s words:

Bureau ODYSSEY designs and performs various ‘promenades’ ranging from meeting with Ulysses and the Cyclops, to looking for moon dust and auroras through the lunettes of  aluminium sharks.
At the Bureau, we explore the extreme and thrill-propulsion.We perform series of attractions/experiences/activities to question the horizon and its limits.We test and assess the impossible and propose visions of new leisure activities.


Image credit: Nelly Ben Hayoun

As part of a team of 13 designers, I went to Iceland to develop design work to be exhibited as part of the Royal College of Art exhibition at Reykjavik Design Week 2012.

Bureau Odyssey established the boundary to design an intervention or object (s) based on the idea of Extreme Tourism. This theme was coherent with Iceland’s extreme landscapes and it evoked the idea of previous human expeditions to expand not only our geographical boundaries but also our personal & physical ones.

Limit boundaries disappear when crossed

Vintage Explorations Image Links (see below)

I was interested in experiencing the landscape and responding from an empirical perspective.  I wanted my own experience as a designer to determine how the project would take shape. In response to the idea of Extremes I looked at previous expeditions, like the Everest climb by Sir Edmund Hillary or Darwin’s voyages in the Galapagos Islands; but I was also interested in the idea of fictional stories that explore the human need for discovery and adventure, like the hunting of the Yeti (which has produced a myriad of interesting ‘evidence’ attempting to prove the Yeti’s existence), or the Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll’s poem from 1876 that tells the story of a crew looking for a dangerous animal at sea; or Moby Dick, with similar storyline, although completely different narrative intention.

I focused on the duality prevalent in the local culture and landscape, and especially on their local mythology and lore. Iceland is called the land of fire and ice, having the largest ice cap in Europe and one of the world’s most volcanic active areas, experiencing an eruption every five years.
Iceland is a land of contrasts, of dramatic and untouched natural landscapes, glaciers,  and aluminium smelters.
Image: similarity between the artificial and natural landscapes.
“Here be dragons” is a phrase used to denote dangerous or unexplored territories, in imitation of the medieval practice of putting sea serpents and other mythological creatures in uncharted areas of maps.   Abraham Ortelius- Islandia  1590
Monster lore permeates the popular culture, and although 90% of the population lives in cities, there is a strong sense of the mythological as part of their modern identity.
In fact, the preservation of ancient traditions is so important that there is an Icelandic Language Committee which is in charge of preserving the ancient Icelandic language. (For example modern technology such as computers are referred as “word-prophets”)
Iceland balances between the real and the fictitious. 
Reindeer in Iceland
In the 18th century, reindeer were imported from Norway. The idea that reindeer (which are not native in Iceland) have been adapting to the Icelandic landscape, naturally moving to the east to adapt to the weather and soil conditions, started the scenario of introducing a mythological beast , which would adapt and evolve according to the geography of the place, making the sport of hunting extreme.
Bones, aluminium, wood, pelts
The premise for the hypothetical scenario is:
‘A genetically manufactured beast, generated by merging traits of the most fearsome local mythological beasts is set loose on the extreme landscape of Iceland.’
Zoological hypothesis.
My interest in this project comes from wanting to explore the role of myths in contemporary life. This is an experiment in creating a story and inserting it in a specific culture and landscape, making it merge with its existing mythology.
In the process of exploring the possibility of creating a fictional beast, I was influenced by the work of Catalan artist Joan Fontcuberta,  and in particular his work Fauna, which  explores authenticity in photography.  (see images below)
Joan Fontcuberta, Fauna.
 I was provided with local materials, such as bone, leather, wood, and aluminium collected from the local aluminium smelter.
Beast of the East costume & hunter’s weapons. 2012
Finally, for the exhibition in Iceland’s Design March, I made a shamanic ritual costume, which includes the skull of one of the beasts found by a hunter in the East fjords,  further confirming the existence of the mythical beast.
The idea of embodying the qualities of hunted animals by wearing their skins underlines the power of ritual for humans and in the same manner, the ritual costume represented the ‘skin’ of my own experiences in Iceland. By the means of rituals we not only understand our environment but also connect with it in an intimate way.
This experience was incredibly insightful as it showcases a powerful design-methodology: the designer as a channel to materialize a subjective experience.


Vintage Explorations Image Links
Galapagos Islands:
The Yeti footprint:
Plant diary entry:
Terra Nova expedition:
Sir Edmund Hillary:
Edmund Hillary’ and sherpa:
Hunting of the Snark:
Amundsen South Pole expedition: