Intuition and Ingenuity explores digital legacy of Alan Turing at Lighthouse Brighton

By Duncan Andrews | 17 February 2012
An image of a digitally-produced image of a formation of violet, purple, yellow and black
Image by boredomresearch. Courtesy of [DAM]Berlin/Cologne.© Boredom Research, courtesy [DAM]Berlin/Cologne
Exhibition: Intuition and Ingenuity, Lighthouse, Brighton, until February 26 2012

This year marks the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing, the renowned World War II code-breaker and father of both modern computing and artificial intelligence seen by many as a national hero for cracking the German Enigma machine during his infamous tenure at Bletchley Park.

In recognition, this imaginative group show explores many of the themes central to Turing’s enduring legacy as part of the Brighton Science Festival and the Alan Turing year 2012.

The exhibition showcases 10 pieces utilising a variety of old and new technologies. It includes Roman Verostko, William Latham, Patrick Tresset, Ernest Edmonds, Anna Dumitriu, Greg Garvey and Alex May, with two newly commissioned works by boredomresearch and Paul Brown.

These artists pay homage to Turring’s enduring legacy in a variety of different ways, exploring notions of artificial life, God complexes and Fibonacci numbers, as well as the co-existence between art and science.

They concentrate on facets of Turing’s tragically unfinished work, adapting and advancing his findings towards new and unexpected artistic conclusions.

The exhibits are technologically diverse, comprising prints, kinetic paintings, scaled winged fragments, robotic entities, algorithmic drawings, interactive and digital installations.
Many of the artists draw upon two of Turing’s seminal papers: his 1936 opus magnum, On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem, and the 1950 paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence.

Turing introduced his 1950 paper with the line: "I propose to consider the question, 'Can machines think?'", a theme which is prevalent throughout this exhibition.

Dumitriu and May’s robot, My Robot Companion, hints at the inspiration for sci-fi writers such as Isaac Asimov and Phillip K Dick.

Their work explores the role of the robotic companion and the human desire to place an identity on the robotic form.

Exemplifying the play between both science and art, Patrick Tresset’s Paul is a robotic hand which can autonomously draw members of the public, inspired by Tresset’s own artistic hand.
Horn of Horns and Evolutionary Etching, by William Latham, drawn on a set of computer determined rules which become subverted through human interaction, and Ernest Edmonds’s Shaping Form for Alan Turing creates continuously altering images, dictated by interaction with the audience.

Smoke and Mirrors Machine, produced by May in collaboration with Dimitriu and Bruce Christianson, is a kinetic and digital installation concerned with intercepting and subverting secure communication between two parties. This work is similar to Turing’s work on the enigma machine at Bletchley Park.

Perhaps the most striking work in the exhibition is Roman Verostko’s Pleiades series.

These algorithmic drawings form a familial series in which Verostko metaphorically grows his own family based on a common set of parameters.

The combination and application of both critical theory and technology in the name of art is sometimes a difficult concept to grasp, as the installations blur the boundaries between art and science.

This type of highbrow artwork can sometimes intimidate, and Turing’s personal life is not explored in any great detail.

It is perhaps more useful to understand the display as an interesting, thoughtful introduction to the academic work of Turning, a man described by his eldest niece as “immensely kind and very eccentric”.  

It is hard to imagine what our modern world could possibly look like without the enduring influence of Alan Turing and even sadder to imagine what more he could have achieved had he not committed suicide at the age of 41.

This exhibition asks us to challenge our relationship with machines by addressing our increasing familiarities with the digital world – the same issues Turing was himself investigating some 60 years ago.
  • Open 11am-6pm. Free Entry.

Follow Duncan Andrews on Twitter and visit his Flickr.

More pictures:

A photo of a screen for an automatic confession machine on a desk inside a gallery
Greg Garvey, The Automatic Confession Machine: A Catholic Turing Test (2012)

A photo of a metal pen-moving machine next to a piece of artwork on a wooden desk
Patrick Tresset's Paul features a robotic hand
A photo of an old-fashioned wooden desk with a lamp and a robot-controlled pen on it
The invention autonomously draws members of the public

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