Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Universal Remote

by Giselle Stanborough

14 Jun 2012

Call me sentimental, but I felt a poignant sense of completion marked the death of Eugene Polley on May 20th 2012. Polley is credited as the inventor of the Remote Control, and it is an appropriate coincidence that one may mourn the passing of his life along with that of his life’s work. The Universal Remote seems to be in the process of supersession by the Universal Machine. There are ample Remote Control Applications available on any smart phone, as well as a deluge of plug-in accessories. While true generation X-ers may be disinclined to release the matte-black, button-clad power siphons of their MTV bejeweled youth, I am not. I’m more likely to use my iPhone. Chances are, the TV show I’m watching is either streaming or downloaded, making the ‘channel’ paradigm evermore irrelevant... and hey, my iPhone is probably in my hand already.

Granted, not every consumer is so actively absorbed in the digital revolution, or has such blatant disregard for copyright law. Yet I can’t deny that these experiences definitely influenced my interpretation of Wade Marynowsky’s latest show “Universal Remote” at UTS Gallery. Propped against the back wall of the gallery, giant totemic remotes tower over the viewer. Appropriately titled Remote Tribe, the sculptures seem like some uncovered artifacts of a distant and primitive people. The overall shape of each remote follows the fluid grain of the wood from which it is carved. The sanded and lacquered surface recalls the corrosive touch of thumbs that progressively erode numbers and text, as control of the Control is habitualised. For the domestic chief of home entertainment, the meaning of each button becomes so intuitive as to make these markings redundant. This is the banal unity of the man-machine. I think it is pertinent that the remotes comprising Remote Tribe lack any textual or numerical carvings.

Such tactility is a characteristic strength of Marynowsky’s practice, and it sets him apart from many of his New Media colleges. The same sensitivity to the corporeal is evident in One Room, One Button: Composition for Padded Room, a work inspired by the notion of a ‘smart house’. The title recalls the ‘one button’ design that typifies the electronics that most consumers associate with the ‘smart’ branding fad, a marketing phenomenon that has so successfully been blazed forth by Apple Inc.

The irony is that the dominant feature of the darkened installation space is rows upon rows of lit-up white buttons. Even the central sculpture, which clearly recalls a bed, is covered in rows of buttons. The crisp uniform whiteness of the objects and the gallery walls recall a space-age sci-fi aesthetic, leaving the viewer feeling as though they are about to bunk down with innumerable HALs. It’s creepy.

Techno-fetishism gets its particular potency from the rapidity with which the object of desire is superseded by the next. I may very well see the TV remote as a soon-to-be-archaic relic. The strength of Marynowsky’s work is that I am left with the same feeling of distance and passing in regards to current technological phenomena. ‘Smart’ now seems less like a successful branding exercise, and more like a mystic talisman, sanctifying our digital conch shells and caves.

Wade Marynowsky Universal Remote

UTS Gallery, Level 4, Peter Johnson Building, 702 Harris St, UTS, Broadway, Sydney

24th April - 1st June 2012.