AL and Al and
The Imitation Game

Science and art come together in two Manchester exhibitions celebrating Alan Turing, says Richard Smirke

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In Alan Turing’s seminal 1950 paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence, the pioneering scientist and mathematician posed the theoretical question “Can machines think?”

Half a century later, the subject of artificial intelligence is more hotly debated than ever, with everyone from Stephen Hawking to visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk warning of its potential dangers, on a seemingly daily basis, while companies like Google and Microsoft invest millions in its development. Typically these discussions are played out in the pages of science journals or at TED talks, but two new Manchester exhibitions are set to bring the subject into the art gallery.

“Collaboration with scientists is opening up so many new vistas for artists looking to explore new worlds,” says Al Holmes, one half of the prize-winning British art duo AL and AL, whose exhibition Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse at Home, Manchester, brings together an immersive mix of film, drawing, installation and live performance.

“One of the things that I wanted to share in this show was our fascination with how we have manipulated and are transforming nature through technology. We think this is the most exciting time ever to be making art,” says Holmes, citing multiverse theory – the idea that many universes can exist at the same time – as a groundbreaking discovery that irrevocably changes the way we view the world. “This exhibition is an invitation to think about how big that moment is.”

Reflecting those themes and ideas, the three components of AL and AL’s multimedia show are either inspired by or made in conjunction with some of the world’s leading scientists. Renowned American physicist Professor Brian Greene worked with the duo on Icarus at the Edge of Time, a film about black holes and relativity that contains a score from composer Philip Glass. New work The Demiurge – featuring actress Sophie Linfield embodying a multitude of genetically modified clones – was inspired by the work of molecular biologist Francis Crick and nanobiophysicist Bart Hoogenboom. Thirdly, The Creator is AL and AL’s Prix du Jury-winning short in which thinking machines from the future travel back in time in search of Turing.

“When machines become intelligent they are going to inherit the great human questions.”

“When machines become intelligent they are going to inherit the great human questions ‘Where did we come from? Who created us?’ What we realised was that the answer they would find is Alan Turing,” explains Holmes.

Turing’s research is also at the heart of The Imitation Game at Manchester Art Gallery. Featuring the work of eight international artists, including American filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson, CGI artist Ed Atkins and modernist sculptor James Capper, the exhibition examines concepts of machines developing and mimicking conscious thought.

“It’s important to recognise the boundary pushing that artists do,” explains curator Clare Gannaway. “Culture is much broader than just the arts, galleries and theatres. It includes science as well, and I think as galleries we need to acknowledge that there’s a huge range of work out there.

“I hope this exhibition will provoke interesting conversations. There are very philosophical questions involved. The art works are all flawed in many ways. None of them would actually convince somebody that they were living things, but they are all challenging us to think about what life is and what does it mean to imitate that?”

AL and AL: Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse is at Home on 6 Feb–10 April. The Imitation Game is at Manchester Art Gallery on 13 Feb–5 June. Photo: The Creator by AL and AL

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