This week, the interactive installation artist Chris Shen presents INFRA, his debut solo show which takes the form of a large-scale composition of 625 dis-used remotes arranged as part of a free-standing infrared light sculpture. Aiming to recognise and contribute to the progressive development of the television, succeeding the efforts of Eugine Polley who designed the first wireless remote back in 1955 - INFRA subverts the initial intended purpose of the remote by taking its role as controller away from it. Its role, now, is shared (with 624 other remotes), whose combined objective is to create recognisable images in the form of live television when viewed through infrared goggles. He transforms the invisible into the visible.
Shen's work firmly stresses technology’s intrinsic presence in human culture, particularly in the digital age. First interested in infrared light when he one day saw the world differently through night vision goggles, Shen has since become fascinated with technology and, more specifically, the workings of infrared LEDs as components within remotes. He has long been interested in the workings of objects, which is not limited to electronics alone. And it is this curiousity that has prompted him to take things apart just to see what’s inside, without necessarily knowing how to put them back together again.
What can generally be considered as banal objects that we’re all owner to, Shen prompts us to question whether we truly understand, or should understand, the capacity and inner working of these so-called curious objects. Indeed, it is his intention to establish the significance of the remote, and to highlight the integral relationship that exists between human and machine.
Dazed Digital: Your intentions behind the installation seem to reverse the role of the remote by turning an active object into a passive one, turning the controller into the controlled. Does your exploration stop at the digital landscape or does it relate to human culture at all?
Chris Shen: I'm interested in how technology works and how we use it. The remote control is often a subsidiary to the television but as objects the buttons wear out and even collect our skin flakes inside. We hold them in our hands everyday but what happens when you press the buttons?
DD: Can you explain how your installation develops or explores the technological progress of televisions and associated objects in the digital age?
Chris Shen: Television is a major part of people's lives, they take pride of place in many families front rooms around the world. However our viewing habits are evolving and TV manufactures are trying to impress us with new features. Channel surfing is a dying act of our television experience, that is lying in the shadows of Smart, 3D and HD TVs.
DD: Why did you decide to create an installation on such a large scale? Where did you source the materials from and was this a difficult process?
Chris Shen: To get a screen capable of playing video needs a certain resolution. It's the opposite of high definition, how low can it go and still be legible? Even though the screen size is 1.5m x 1m your brain needs to work to figure out what you are seeing. At this low resolution that's still 625 individual remotes that are all different ages and sizes. Each needs to be opened and wired together, so the process is time consuming but not too difficult as the technology inside the devices is surprisingly simple.
DD: In turning the invisible into the visible, was it your intention to make something that would be completely unmissable?
Chris Shen: It's an imposing object that demands attention, yet we cant see the images as they exists below the visible light spectrum of humans. We need technology to see the infrared light.
DD: What's next?
Chris Shen: TV is a worldwide language so there are plans to take INFRA elsewhere. There is plenty more to see in the infrared spectrum still.
Open now until 3 February 2013: Protein, 18 Hewett Street, London, EC2A 3NN