Alan Turing was one of the most important and original Englishmen of the twentieth century who did more than any other to make possible the breaking of the German Enigma codes at the secret Station X at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. It was said by Winston Churchill that Turing’s work was the greatest single contribution to victory in the Second World War. It is agreed by historians that the work of the codebreakers shortened the war by at least two years, saving countless lives.
Turing is also regarded as the intellectual parent of computer science.
Alan Mathison Turing was born on 23rd June 1912 at the Colonnade hotel, Paddington, London.
At school, despite his brilliance, Turing was poorly served by those appointed to teach him and his tendency to follow his own train of thought infuriated his teachers. Turing was a free thinker, openly atheist and unapologetically homosexual who had unconventional habits and an unkempt appearance.
Turing took refuge in pure mathematics and the work of Einstein and in 1930 he won a scholarship to Kings College, Cambridge. He was elected a Fellow of Kings in 1935 for his works on probability theory. He later moved to Princeton University where his studies led him to toy with the idea of building a machine that could think!
Turing moved to work full time at Bletchley Park when war was declared in 1939 working on Naval Enigma in hut 8 which proved a turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic. In 1945 he was awarded the OBE in recognition of his work with the Government Codes and cipher School at Bletchley. (later became GCHQ)
Turing was prosecuted for his homosexuality and was chemically castrated by means of injections of the female hormone oestrogen to reduce his libido. His trial was reported in the most lurid terms in the press and destroyed his career. On the 7th June 1954 aged just forty-one, he was found dead after eating an apple laced with potassium cyanide.
The coroners report was suicide.
For more information on Alan Turing please visit www.turing.org.uk
For this commission I wanted to create a very intricate tribute to this remarkable man. During my research into his life I found that he had spent much time in North Wales both as a child on holiday and as an adult. Being an artist working exclusively with slate, I decided that it would be fitting to select a slate from this region for his statue. The slate selected was from Blaenau Ffestiniog (Llechwedd) a place where I have spent much time and enjoy visiting myself as a source of inspiration. My interest in slate goes far beyond sculpture. I enjoy talking publicly about this unique, silky substance and the great hardship that men went through to extract it, often from deep under ground by candle light. Please visit my slate page on this site for more information and images.
For Turing, I decided to present the statue on slate floorboards resting on joists. Many of the codebreakers worked in hastily assembled huts at Bletchley Park, including Turing (hut 8). I actually started the statue with the shoes and added the base at the end as it would have been awkward to work over in the early stages. As I had intended to make this piece very detailed, I included shoe laces and there are about 200 individually placed slates in them which have proved fascinating for visitors to the Park.
As Turing was, to all outward appearances, a misfit, always wearing an old jacket, even in the summer and his shirt collar usually curling up slightly, I decided to portray him seated at his desk and carefully hinted at his untidy appearance. If you allow your eyes to wonder over the statue, I’m sure you will find some of them!
The statue is slate all the way through, there is no frame as such, I first make an armature of 1 inch thick stainless steel and build around it. The whole piece weighs around one and a half tonnes and took 18 months to create and I enjoyed every minute of it.
The statue was unveiled in a marquee on the croquet lawn at Bletchley Park to accommodate the 300 guests, dismantled and re-assembled the following day in the entrance building.
Because stacked slate cuts light, it is extremely difficult to photograph, therefore, the only way to see this piece is in the flesh. Bletchley receives no government funding in any way and relies heavily on visitors. Please pay tribute to the unsung intellectual warriors of the 20th century by visiting Bletchley Park, Britain’s most original World War II site.
Details at www.bletchleypark.org.uk
I will be at Bletchley Park at various times through the year assisting the dedicated team of volunteer guides. If you would like to come along I would be more than happy to talk you through the thoughts and processes involved in creating the piece.
Please feel free to contact me for details of my next visit.
You can see footage of the statue here.