Chris Shen’s INFRA Installation

JournalArt & Culture

Chris Shen’s INFRA Installation

Master and slave role reversal is fascinating, if bizarre, project...

What do you get when you come across 625 remote controls? Nope, not a salvage yard or a creep old guy’s workshop – but an actual operational television set.

Well, that’s the general gist of the latest installation by interactive artist Chris Shen, opening this Thursday at 18 Hewett Street gallery. His piece – INFRA – repurposes 625 old, found, discarded and gifted remote controls to create one corresponding TV set, using complex codes and infrared viewing goggles. This, as far as we know, has (quite understandably) never been done before and certainly makes for some interesting viewing!

In complete darkness, the piece stands alone – the viewer encouraged to view the monochrome images (black and white TV) through the special goggles, in order to experience Shen’s code-based graphics. To the naked eye the installation appears nothing more than a series of remote controls stacked to form a box like shape. INFRA is essentially 625 pixels in its visual capacity, with a controlled frequency emitting invisible light to create low-res viewing.

Bringing to light our relationship between technology and the way we now view information, I caught up with Shen (mid tinkering with cables and wires) to get to the bottom of this bizarre but fascinating project…

Chris Shen's INFRA Installation

Photo © We Heart

Why remote controls? What’s the big idea?

Remote controls are often overlooked as a subsidiary to their TV counterparts. Yet they are the key to the way we have been watching television over the last 50 years. Now with all the new TVs, the digital switchover and online video – the way we watch is changing. We use remote controls on a daily basis but how many people understand what happens when you press the buttons?

How on earth did you find 625 remote controls? 

They came from various places such as by donation, markets and of course the internet. People usually have too many remotes, there must be millions more lost down the side of the sofa or simply thrown out when their new flatscreen arrives.

Where did the inspiration come from?

I’m most interested in our everyday tools, simple things that we maybe take for granted. A lot of attention goes towards new technology but the best isn’t necessarily the newest. People such as Eugene Polley who is credited for inventing the first wireless TV remote is by no means a household name – his idea, the remote control, however is.  

Chris Shen's INFRA Installation Chris Shen's INFRA Installation Chris Shen's INFRA Installation

Photo © We Heart

Is it fair to say that ‘we’ have been controlling TVs via our remotes, and in a way you’re commanding the commander’s attention with this piece?

By re-purposing these old remotes they are becoming the TV they were designed to control. Television by default commands your attention because that is what a TV is made for, to be stared at.

When you’re not tinkering with TVs, wires & such, what’s your favourite thing(s) to do on your day off?

It never really stops. There is always something new (or old) to play with, so you never know what you might find that sparks a new idea. I’m interested in our relationships with technology and communication – how things work and the way we see things. My work mainly involves video as it’s a major part of the way we communicate today. I like to present these ideas that often appear to be technically complex but in a simple and playful way.

So what’s next?

I’m fascinated by the power of sound and music, it’s an area I’m keen to explore more. I’d like to work with a film score composer perhaps.
INFRA opens on Thursday 17th January and runs until 3rd February. A limited run of Shen’s first edition INFRA book will be available at 18 Hewett Street on opening night. The book shows Shen’s work through infrared goggles. It marks the evolution of televisual technology by paying homage to analogue viewing in the rapidly changing digital age.

Chris Shen's INFRA Installation Chris Shen's INFRA Installation Chris Shen's INFRA Installation Chris Shen's INFRA Installation

Photo © We Heart

Chris Shen's INFRA Installation Chris Shen's INFRA Installation

Photo © We Heart