For this eerie organism, Huang recorded eye movements up-close, and nestled a screen to show the footage among inflated plastic bags and other household materials. "The idea of taking existing objects, merging them and making something new and magical is wonderful to me," he says. EX-C-F 4 (YK-Eye), by Shih Chieh Huang, 2009. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Artist Shih Chieh Huang (TED Talk: Sculptures that’d be at home in the deep sea) takes everyday objects — plastic bottles, food containers, old computer parts — and transforms them into surreal sea creatures. These creatures tower over the viewer and move as if they’re alive. Many have eyes that blink, tentacles that unfurl and bioluminescent parts that glow.

So, what’s up with the garbage bags? “I was walking in the woods in a sculpture park one day, and I came across a pile of garbage bags left by a passerby,” says Huang. “It gave me the idea to put a computer cooling fan inside one of the bags and set it on a timer, so that when people passed by they’d see it inflating and deflating, as if the pile of bags had mutated and begun to take on life of its own. That was the starting point for many of the creatures I made later on.  I started thinking of the single breathing bag like a single-cell organism. What happens when a bag grows up and becomes more complex? Does it start growing water bottles? Glowing plastic tentacles? Do they communicate with each other? Seduce each other?”

Huang found further inspiration for these pieces during a fellowship at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where he studied bioluminescent organisms. “There are so many cool bioluminescent creatures, each with their own unique characteristics — the silver hatchetfish, the vampire squid, the flashlight fish,” says Huang. “One of the concepts I was inspired by: many bioluminescent creatures did not grow ‘new’ light organs. The light organs often evolved from a pre-existing organ — for the lanternfish, it was a mutated dorsal fin infected by bioluminescent bacteria.”

In this gallery, a closer look at some of Huang’s very cool creatures.

Shih Chieh Huang is a TED Fellow.