TV Only Watchable When Viewers Smile


Haunting art installation uses facial recognition to change how we fundamentally interact with technology

Nestor Bailly, PSFK
  • 11 august 2014

Imagine a world where only happy people are fed content, the masses forced to smile in order to be entertained. Sounds dystopian, but the technology is already here and has been deployed in certain commercial environments.

Perhaps as an artistic commentary on this, Royal College of Art student David Hedberg has created a retro-styled TV that only displays distorted, ‘bad reception’ video until the viewer smiles. They have to hold that smile in order for the video to remain clear.

Hedberg modifies ordinary objects to change our fundamental relationship and interaction with them. The ‘bad reception’ that his Smile TV normally displays was in the past always a cause for scowls and unhappiness, as was the limited content served by only a few players in telecoms. Contrast this to today with nearly unlimited access the Internet provides, the only restriction is our own receptivity.


Hence Hedberg’s project that turns the viewer into the antenna that ‘opens’ for content when they are receptive, or smile. While this encouragement to re-examine how we consume content is fun and light-hearted, honestly underneath it feels sinister. This is an example of art imitating life, as this kind of technology has already been in use for some time to serve certain kinds of content based on who is viewing and their mood as perceived by a camera (often the commonplace Kinect). What this installation could point to is a future where audiences are trained to exhibit certain behavior in order to be entertained or informed. It’s not hard to then imagine how marketers, news agencies and governments could manipulate the public more than they do.

But for now, it’s a simple and fun art installation.

David Hedberg

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