Spirit Of Alan Turing Haunts Paddington Bridge

By M@ Last edited 86 months ago

Last Updated 13 March 2017

Spirit Of Alan Turing Haunts Paddington Bridge

This piece of public art in Paddington is all rather geeky.

The installation commemorates Alan Turing, the computer pioneer and codebreaker who was born in nearby Maida Vale in 1912.

A bank of black boxes stack up beneath the Bishop's Bridge Road flyover. Each contains an array of white LEDs that flash up an ever changing chatter of words. At first glance, it all looks rather antiquated, like someone's rediscovered some 1980s train destination boards from a Paddington store cupboard, and given them a new lease of life.

But watch the flashing lights for a while, and you might just get a shiver down your spine.

"This is Alan speaking..."

"...many years later now."

The apparent ghost in the machine is a work of art known as ‘Message from the Unseen World’, devised by United Visual Artists and Futurecity.

Turns out the panels are displaying words by Nick Drake (a Hackney-based poet, not the late singer-songwriter). Drake's poem imagines the towering genius of Turing looking back on his life from some kind of digital hereafter. The words don't necessarily appear in the right order. An algorithm dicks about with different combinations, throwing up unusual sentences and garbled sentiments. Is there a pattern? Is there a code? Makes you think.

That's good art, that is. Most passers-by seemed oblivious to the new addition to the towpath but, every now and then, someone would pause and inspect the boards. It's one of those pieces that will slowly percolate into those who regularly pass by. Each lunchtime stroll will throw up a different combination, and eventually something will connect. That really is good art.

The installation is not the first memorial to Turing in London. A plaque marking his birthplace can be found at 2 Warrington Crescent. In nearby St Mary's Terrace, a steel statue of Turing stands alongside similar facsimiles of Mary Seacole and Michael Bond — like a surreal reprise of the ghost scene at the end of Return of the Jedi.

The Turing memorial can be found just outside the canal entrance to Paddington Underground, beneath the nearby road bridge.