05:16
TED2014

Shih Chieh Huang: Sculptures that’d be at home in the deep sea

Filmed:

When he was young, artist Shih Chieh Huang loved taking toys apart and perusing the aisles of night markets in Taiwan for unexpected objects. Today, this TED Fellow creates madcap sculptures that seem to have a life of their own—with eyes that blink, tentacles that unfurl and parts that light up like bioluminescent sea creatures.

- Artist
Shih Chieh Huang doesn’t make art that’s meant to be admired from afar. He dissects and disassembles the detritus of our lives—household appliances, lights, computer parts, toys—and transforms them into surreal experiences. Full bio

I was born in Taiwan.
00:12
I grew up surrounded by
00:14
different types of hardware stores,
00:16
and I like going to night markets.
00:19
I love the energy of the night markets,
00:21
the colors, the lights, the toys,
00:23
and all the unexpected things I find every time I go,
00:25
things like watermelon with straw antennas
00:29
or puppies with mohawks.
00:32
When I was growing up, I liked taking toys apart,
00:36
any kind of toys I'd find around the house,
00:39
like my brother's BB gun when he's not home.
00:41
I also liked to make environments
00:43
for people to explore and play.
00:45
In these early installations,
00:47
I would take plastic sheets, plastic bags,
00:49
and things I would find in the hardware store
00:52
or around the house.
00:53
I would take things like highlighter pen,
00:55
mix it with water, pump it through plastic tubing,
00:57
creating these glowing circulatory systems
01:01
for people to walk through and enjoy.
01:03
I like these materials because of the way they look,
01:06
the way they feel, and they're very affordable.
01:08
I also liked to make devices
that work with body parts.
01:12
I would take camera LED lights
01:14
and a bungee cord and strap it on my waist
01:17
and I would videotape my belly button,
01:19
get a different perspective,
01:21
and see what it does.
01:22
(Laughter)
01:24
I also like to modify household appliances.
01:26
This is an automatic night light.
01:29
Some of you might have them at home.
01:30
I would cut out the light sensor,
01:32
add an extension line,
01:34
and use modeling clay,
01:35
stick it onto the television,
01:37
and then I would videotape my eye,
01:39
and using the dark part of my eye
01:41
tricking the sensor into thinking it's night time,
01:43
so you turn on the lightbulb.
01:45
The white of the eye and the eyelid
01:46
will trick the sensor into thinking it's daytime,
01:48
and it will shut off the light.
01:50
I wanted to collect more different types of eyes,
01:53
so I built this device using bicycle helmets,
01:55
some lightbulbs and television sets.
01:58
It would be easier for other
people to wear the helmet
02:00
and record their eyes.
02:03
This device allows me to symbolically
02:05
extract other people's eyes,
02:08
so I have a diversity of eyes to use
02:10
for my other sculptures.
02:12
This sculpture has four eyes.
02:20
Each eye is controlling a different device.
02:22
This eye is turning itself around in a television.
02:24
This eye is inflating a plastic tube.
02:28
This eye is watching a video
of another piece being made.
02:30
And these two eyes are activating glowing water.
02:34
Many of these pieces are later on shown
02:38
in museums, biennials, triennial exhibitions
02:40
around the world.
02:42
I love science and biology.
02:44
In 2007, I was doing a research fellowship
02:47
at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum
02:49
looking at bioluminous organisms in the oean.
02:51
I love these creatures. I love the
way they look, the way they feel.
02:54
They're soft, they're slimy,
02:57
and I was fascinated by the way they use light
03:00
in their environment,
03:02
either to attract mates, for self-defense,
03:03
or to attract food.
03:06
This research inspired my
work in many different ways,
03:08
things like movement or different light patterns.
03:11
So I started gathering a lot of
03:18
different types of material in my studio
03:19
and just experimenting
03:22
and trying this out, trying that out,
03:23
and seeing what types of creatures I can come up with.
03:25
I used a lot of computer cooling fans
03:27
and just kind of put them
together and see what happens.
03:30
This is an 8,000-square-foot installation
03:33
composed of many different creatures,
03:35
some hanging from the ceiling
and some resting on the floor.
03:37
From afar, they look alien-like,
03:40
but when you look closer,
03:42
they're all made out of black garbage bags
03:43
or Tupperware containers.
03:45
I'd like to share with you how ordinary things
03:46
can become something magical and wondrous.
03:49
(Applause)
04:06
Thank you.
05:04
(Applause)
05:06

▲Back to top

About the Speaker:

Shih Chieh Huang - Artist
Shih Chieh Huang doesn’t make art that’s meant to be admired from afar. He dissects and disassembles the detritus of our lives—household appliances, lights, computer parts, toys—and transforms them into surreal experiences.

Why you should listen

Shih Chieh Huang has one goal with his art: to create experiences for people to explore. He finds inspiration for his work from some highly unusual sources: a bioluminescent fish, a garbage bag, even his belly button.

A TED Fellow, Shih Chieh Huang grew up in Taiwan, where he enjoyed discovering strange objects in his local night market. He developed a passion for taking apart everyday objects and transforming them into something new. These experiences—as well as a  fellowship at the Smithsonian Institute studying bioluminescent organisms—deeply inform his work. 

Shih Chieh Huang has created a helmet that records the movement of the eye, and then uses the blinks to turn on and off a nightlight. He’s also used similar mechanisms to send glowing water pumping through tubes. His most recent work, however, takes plastic bottles, garbage bags and other everyday items and transforms them into gigantic sculptures that move and light up—as if they were actual sea creatures.  

More profile about the speaker
Shih Chieh Huang | Speaker | TED.com