UVA create memorial wall to Alan Turing

A new permanent artwork by United Visual Artists, sited under a bridge near Paddington station in London, is a curiously moving tribute to the pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing who was born in the area.

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Curated by Futurecity, Message from the Unseen World runs the width of the underside of Bishop’s Bridge Road and is the result of a collaboration with poet and playwright, Nick Drake.

As passersby walk alongside the installation, which is set to be a permanent memorial, words spelled out in white LEDs seem to light up then fade away. Only by stepping back to take the whole piece in from a single viewpoint can visitors see the complete feed of Drake’s poem, which sees Turing speaking posthumously about his life – beginning with the line “This is Alan speaking”.

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According to UVA, the text display is controlled by an algorithm that throws up combinations of letters and words – so the poem disintegrates and fractures as new words replace the previous ones.

In fact, there are two messages in the work in that the holes for the LEDs also spell out a coded version of extracts from Turing’s text, Computing Machinery and Intelligence. (The LEDs are housed in countersunk holes causing the words of the poem to appear to brighten and dim as you move passed.)

Turing was born in Paddington in 1912 and through his work on theoretical computer science is widely regarded as a pioneer of artificial intelligence. His work at Bletchley Park during the Second World War saw the development of an electromechanical device that could break the codes generated by the German Enigma machines.

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Sadly, Turing took his own life aged just 41, having been prosecuted for ‘gross indecency’ in 1952 – ‘homosexual acts’ were only decriminalised in the UK in 1967. Turing was officially pardoned in 2013 and, in September this year, the British government announced its intention to pursue what has become known as the ‘Alan Turing law’ – offering exoneration to the tens of thousands of gay men convicted of historic charges.

Message from the Unseen World is a moving piece of work that provides a busy commuter passageway with an area for momentary pause for thought. That the human voice is brought to life through poetry, modulated via machine and algorithms, makes for a particularly poignant tribute.

Message from the Unseen World is located near the canal-side entrance to Paddington Underground Station (under Bishops Bridge Road). Developers: British Land

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