Blinc digital arts festival's tribute to Alan Turing

Image caption,
Images of Alan Turing were projected into the night sky above Conwy

Organisers of a digital arts festival in Conwy are using the event to pay tribute to the man dubbed the father of modern computing, Alan Turing.

The nighttime centrepiece of the blinc festival is a laser image of Turing projected from the castle into the sky.

As well as developing the theories on which computers are based, Turing was also a WWII code-breaker.

Festival curator Craig Morrison said Turing's "fundamental" work had helped shape contemporary life.

Turing helped to crack Germany's Enigma and Lorenz codes as part of the team at Bletchley Park.

US commanding officer and future president General Eisenhower, estimated that the 'Ultra' intelligence received by intercepting German communications shortened the war by between two and four years, and saved up to a million lives on both sides of the conflict.

Even though Alan Turing was born in London, a century ago this year, he had strong connections with north Wales.

Mike Yates, professor of mathematics at Bangor University, who was consulted over the festival's tribute, said the Italianate village of Portmeirion in Gwynedd was one of Turing's favourite places.

"My mentor at Manchester University was Professor Robin Gandy, and in turn Robin had been the protege of Alan Turing," he said.

"Both Alan and Robin were part of an ex-Cambridge set who used to meet up in and around Portmeirion, as another of their close friends had married Sir Clough Williams-Ellis' daughter."

"The group also included other academics such as Bertrand Russell and Lord Aberconwy; people who would have appreciated the quiet to work amongst friends, or like Turing, the freedom to relax away from top-secret work.

"In [TV programme] The Prisoner, Portmeirion was meant to keep in Patrick McGoohan, but in real life I think Turing and his friends loved it because it kept out the rest of the world."

After the war, revelations about Turing's homosexuality brought about his downfall, with his security clearance being revoked following a conviction for indecency in 1952.

Media caption,
The festival features a range of computer projections, from birds and bees to President Obama and David Cameron

Two years later he died from cyanide poisoning in what his family believe was an accident rather than suicide.

Turing's wartime work was finally acknowledged in 1974, and in 2009 the UK government officially apologised for the way in which he was treated.

"I think the establishment definitely turned on Alan," said Prof Yates.

"It had been an open secret that he'd been gay for years, but this came just after Burgess and Maclean had been exposed as double agents, and so I think there was a lot of sensitivity towards homosexual Cambridge alumni who knew too many state secrets."

"That's why I believe it's so fitting that he's honoured in Wales, and in this way.

"Portmeirion seems to have been one of the few places where Turing felt relaxed enough to be himself, and by blazing our thanks into the Conwy sky, blinc are very publicly redressing all the years of silence and denial."

Aside from the Turing laser extravaganza, each night from 18:40 until 22:30, the festival will feature digital, film and live performances, beamed onto buildings around Conwy via giant projectors.

Festival curator Craig Morrison says visitors need only look around them to see why they should be remembering Turing's achievements.

"Alan Turing's abstract mathematical achievements epitomize what blinc represents, and in some way they're responsible for probably most of the artwork that will be displayed at the festival."

"His fundamental work in computing has helped to shape what we see in contemporary life, while his wartime work on codebreaking definitely contributed to the preservation of our freedom of expression."

The blinc festival runs from Friday until Sunday.

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