Wellcome Trust bid finally submitted!

Last week the Wellcome Trust Small Arts Grant application was finally submitted, which will hopefully support Tove Kjellmark to collaborate with Dr David Lester and Michael Hopkins in the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester to make a new sculpture with embedded SpiNNaker technology. Fingers crossed for a positive decision in October…

Making plans for Yu-Chen Wang’s Manchester residency

More exciting discussions with Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Manchester have led to plans for Taiwanese artist Yu-Chen Wang to be in residence for a month in February 2015, exploring the collection at the museum and the idea of narratives making connections between different machines and machine parts. Following the residency, Yu-Chen will make a new piece of work for The Imitation Game based on her research. Yu-Chen, Jessica Tien-Chao Li from the Taiwan Ministry of Culture, Jack Kirby and Deborah Kell from MOSI and I spent an afternoon delving into the museum archives looking at things like this amazing steam engine diagram. Thanks to everyone for such a positive discussion about this collaborative project - it’ll be great to have Yu-Chen in Manchester next year…

What on earth is neuromorphics?! This article explains, and mentions the team at Manchester University that artist Tove Kjellmark will be collaborating with to make a new artwork for The Imitation Game


Desmond Henry: the amazing story of when LS Lowry met the computer artist

Today I went to a seminar in the Computer Science dept. at Manchester University to hear Elaine O’Hanrahan talking about her father Desmond Henry, “British pioneer of computer art”. Henry grew up in Huddersfield and went on to teach Philosophy at The University of Manchester. Following his experiences as a young man during WW2, he started making drawing machines using the machinery from bombsight computers (the machines that helped calculate where bombs should be dropped from planes such as Lancaster bombers). Elaine told the wonderful story of how her father entered a Salford art competition started by Lowry; he didn’t enter his machine drawings, but some of his experimental photography, which won the prize: a solo exhibition at the Reid gallery in London. When Lowry visited the family home to see Henry’s body of work, he was apparently so impressed by his machine drawings and the machines themselves that he encouraged Henry to include this work in the exhibition too. I find this story fascinating; it gives us a great insight into the relationship between two completely different artists who were contemporaries, perhaps challenging established views of Lowry as well. Henry had no formal art training, and seems to fit the classic definition of an “outsider artist”, but went on to show his work in the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition at the ICA in 1968. His drawings themselves are created using machines but then embellished by hand, emphasising certain lines or creating forms reminiscent of landscape or architecture. Despite knowing Alan Turing and his colleagues in Computer Science in Manchester, Henry refused to use digital technology, prefering to stick with analogue machines. As Elaine O’Hanrahan argues, Henry’s work can be seen as a link between the mechanical age and the digital.

I saw this documentary on BBC4 last night. Having read about some of the featured automata in Living Dolls by Gaby Wood, it was great to see some moving images of them. Highlights were the fabulous Silver Swan by John Joseph Merlin and the writing boy by Jacquet-Droz from 1774. Unfortunately the chess playing Turk by Wolfgang von Kempelen was a complete fraud and had a person hiding inside it controlling the Turk’s hand! As Simon Schaffer says in the programme, it was “a human pretending to be a machine pretending to be a human”. I wonder if I can include that idea in my contemporary exhibition anywhere!

Schaffer concluded the programme by saying how these cam-driven clockwork pieces influenced the development of recorded music and cinema.

Alan Turing and cybernetic tortoises at the Science Museum

I went to this exhibition about Alan Turing a few weeks ago at the Science Museum, London. http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/plan_your_visit/exhibitions/turing.aspx

Although I left with an overwhelming feeling of sadness about Turing’s premature death and the appalling way his body was violated in an attempt to “cure” him of homosexuality, it was a very interesting insight into elements of his life and work. And there are some nice references to his time at Manchester University from 1948 when he led on software development for pioneering early computers developed there.

To quote one of the text panels: In 1950, Alan Turing published a scientific paper which began “Can machines think?” In it he described what has since become known as the “Turing test”, in which a machine is said to be intelligent if it can successfully imitate the intellectual capacities of a human in a guessing game.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is a cybernetic tortoise by William Grey Walter, c.1950!! It was created as an “artificial animal” to investigate brain function. It was attracted to light and avoided obstacles.


Looks very interesting. Couldn’t make it to the “open house” event, but will be following the blog…

Here’s some information on wikipedia about Alan Turing’s phrase which inspires the title. In 1950, Turing asked, "Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?"