Paddington artwork unveiled
Almost two years ago, Paddington Central teamed up with Future City to find the perfect piece of art for the area. They launched a competition to attract ideas that would complement Paddington’s exciting new developments, while also celebrating its history.
The winning submission is an homage to local hero Alan Turing, devised by United Visual Artists (UVA). “The brief was to bring the station walk to life,” explains Matt Clark, Creative Director at UVA. “Even though they’re beautiful and historic, there are underpasses and bridges that can be quite dark. In the past, light has been a core medium in a lot of our works.”
Matt and his team discovered that Alan Turing was born in Paddington and were inspired by his tragic personal story, as well as his extensive and groundbreaking work on artificial intelligence.
“As a studio, we were really attracted to his work,” says Matt. “He asked a question in one of his essays: ‘Can computers think?’ We’ve always had an element of computational process that feeds into our design projects. We’ve asked: ‘Can technology create art?’ We’re fascinated with watching it try, or creating a system that attempts to, and the beauty in the errors of doing that.
“For this project, we’ve created a computer script that generates the contents of our artwork, which is always changing. It is attempting to create poetry, but knowing that the computer is very limited in doing tasks such as this, we felt like there needed to be a human juxtaposition.”
Matt called on poet Nick Drake, who he’d previously worked with on an installation about climate change for the National Maritime Museum. He asked Nick to compose a poem, which UVA’s algorithm would play with, filtering through synonyms to create new lines of poetry.
Light and space
The words are written in lights, which shine through holes in a huge aluminium façade. The entire piece sits below a bridge by the entrance to Paddington Central’s Sheldon Square, illuminating a formerly gloomy spot.
“There’s an interesting interaction between the physical nature of the metal façade and the digital aspect,” says Matt. “Although they seem as one, when you look at them from certain angles, and you’re quite close to the artwork, it starts to break up the light. You’ve got all these interesting things that happen based on your proximity to it, which I think really adds something.”
The UVA team spent a lot of time experimenting with materials to find something that sits naturally with the existing scenery. “It was important for us that it feels right within that environment,” says Matt. “There is a lot of steel and brickwork under the bridge – it feels as though it is from the industrial revolution – then on the other side of the bridge it’s very modern. We wanted the modern and old materials to co-exist.”
Matt and the team settled on aluminium as the main sculptural material. The glowing poetry won’t be on 24 hours a day, so they’ve turned the metal itself into a point of interest. “We wanted it to look beautiful when it’s off,” Matt says. “There are thousands of drilled holes on the huge metal façade, but they’re not just random holes, the physical relief is a hard-coded essay written by Alan Turing.”
One challenge of creating a permanent piece of art for a public space is ensuring that the people who live or work in the area respond well to it.
“The art of it is to create something that resonates with the space that it occupies but also the people who have to live with it,” says Matt. “I think you can create the most beautiful thing in the world and it can do loads of stuff, but if you’re walking past every day it can become part of the periphery. We hope to challenge that.
“It might take people away from the humdrum for a minute and make them think about the beauty in poetry, the life of Alan Turing, what that means in today’s society, and just give them something to break up their journey every day.”