Alan Turing - BBC's icon of the 20th Century

This February, throughout LGBT History Month, at Paddington Central we are proud to celebrate the equality of the diverse individuals who live, work and relax in and around our neighbourhood.  Here on campus, Message from the Unseen World, a permanent Alan Turing inspired artwork by United Visual Artists and poet Nick Drake, affirms our commitment to offer an inclusive and welcoming environment where all can flourish. 

Situated under Bishops Bridge, on the way to and from Paddington Station, this innovative artwork pays respectful homage to Turing, the genius mathematician and war-time code breaker who also happens to be one of Paddington’s most celebrated figures.   Fabricated from an outer shell of hole-punched aluminium through which LED lights shine, the site-specific installation presents a commissioned poem by Drake which considers the private life and professional achievements of Alan Turing.   Here, however, the poem is shuffled by complex algorithms, creating infinite new interpretations of the verse. 

Our Art Curator, Rosie Glenn, has been talking with those closely involved in this artwork’s concept including Drake, whose lyrical poem is relayed across the entire installation. Reflecting on Turing’s sexuality, for which he was prosecuted and treated inhumanely during the 1950s, leading ultimately to his death, Drake observes “We live in the digital future Alan Turing invented. He was a gay man when to be so was illegal - with tragic consequences.  In my poem, Turing 'speaks' - as he could not have done in his own lifetime - about the secret history of his love.”   In 2016, the Government announced that the thousands of men, including Alan Turing, convicted under outdated gross laws would be posthumously pardoned. Interest in Turing and his ground-breaking work continues, he was recently named the BBC's icon of the 20th Century and Scientist Icon in BBC2’s current ICONS series.

Message from the Unseen World also invites the viewer to contemplate our complex relationship with the technology pioneered by Turing.  Speaking with Rosie, Matt Clark, founder of United Visual Artists, explains further how, inspired by the code breaker’s ideas and legacy, the team aimed to “explore the increasingly blurring line between human and machine communicative abilities, using basic principles of artificial intelligence to endlessly rewrite Nick Drake’s original poem.” Continuing, Clark observes that the constantly evolving presentation of Drake’s poetry “provides an area of ambiguity, a space for people to question the meaning and source of this communication.  Importantly, it also allows the viewer to engage with the source, to participate in a process of collaborative scripting.”

Next time you’re passing, why not read Drake’s poem in full on the adjacent plaque and, as Clark suggests, allow your mind to interact with this important piece of Public Artwork.  Take time to recognise the physical and digital connectivity that forms part of the modern age and, during LGBT History Month, to remember Alan Turing, the great pioneer of computer science, and the man whose relationships were deemed deeply inappropriate by society during his lifetime.

Today, proud to support LGBT members of our community and visitors to our inclusive campus, we recognise the importance and equality of every individual and collective relationship.   Looking ahead to the summer, we will be enjoying another PRIDE celebration, put the date in your diary, everyone’s invited!


Message from the Unseen

United Visual Artists in collaboration with Nick Drake


About Nick Drake

Nick Drake is a London based poet, screenwriter and playwright. His most recent collection of poems, Out of Range, was published in November 2018 by Bloodaxe Books.

About UVA

UVA (United Visual Artists) is a London-based practice founded in 2003 by British artist Matt Clark. UVA’s diverse body of work integrates new technologies with traditional media such as painting, sculpture, performance, and site-specific installation.


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