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Turing sculpture stands tall at King’s College for Cambridge ‘homecoming’





The Alan Turing sculpture, ‘True’, by Sir Antony Gormley has been unveiled at King’s College.

The father of modern computing, the inventor of the concept of artificial intelligence, the immortalised Second World War codebreaker of Bletchley Park, Turing (1912-54) studied mathematics at King’s. He became a fellow of the University of Cambridge college in 1935 aged just 22 – which perhaps gave the unveiling on Monday (22 January) the added piquancy of a homecoming of sorts.

A sculpture dedicated to Alan Turing created by Sir Antony Gormley has been dedicated at event at King's College where it is located. Picture: Keith Heppell
A sculpture dedicated to Alan Turing created by Sir Antony Gormley has been dedicated at event at King's College where it is located. Picture: Keith Heppell

The 3.7m sculpture – 19 blocks of 5.5in (140mm) thick rolled Corten steel whose centre of balance seems entirely mysterious – looks out across the historic Cambridge setting, between Gibbs Building and Webb’s Court. The design became a talking point when Historic England, in 2022 correspondence with Cambridge City Council about planning permission, said: “We consider that it would harm the particular character, created by the interplay of buildings and landscape, which makes the college so remarkable a place.”

Sir Antony grabbed that particular bull by the horns in his speech to the audience of around 100 invited academics, sponsors, alumni, and stakeholders. Noting that he had been worried “it wasn’t controversial enough” – which got a hearty laugh from the audience – he said: “I’m amazed by the way the sculpture speaks to the buildings and the buildings to the sculpture. They’ve immediately entered a kind of dialogue.”

A sculpture dedicated to Alan Turing created by Sir Antony Gormley has been dedicated at event at King's College where it is located. Picture: Keith Heppell
A sculpture dedicated to Alan Turing created by Sir Antony Gormley has been dedicated at event at King's College where it is located. Picture: Keith Heppell

He added: “I have to say it took a long time to get here. It was 2015 when the journey started, and the planning permission was perhaps the biggest hurdle, though everyone agrees it looks like the sculpture has always been here.”

He then thanked all those who had helped make it happen, from the team at King’s to the sponsors to the installation team, noting: “It is a 3.5-tonne house of cards, you have to make sure it stands up.”

A sculpture dedicated to Alan Turing created by Sir Antony Gormley has been dedicated at event at King's College where it is located. Picture: Keith Heppell
A sculpture dedicated to Alan Turing created by Sir Antony Gormley has been dedicated at event at King's College where it is located. Picture: Keith Heppell

Turing famously created the machine that cracked the Enigma code used by the Germans, helping to shorten the Second World War. Awarded an OBE in 1945, he was then prosecuted in the early 1950s and died in 1954. The government apologised for his treatment in 2009, and Turing eventually received a royal pardon in 2013.

The Corten sculpture, in front of the library arches near the King’s Front Court, is made of one per cent copper, which will oxidise and form a richer red surface, but there’s no rust on Turing the gay icon, or Turing the torchbearer for the digital age – quite the opposite, his legend is shining ever brighter. Indeed, knowledge of Turing’s achievements, said King’s College Provost Gillian Tett in her introductory remarks at the unveiling, continues to spread far and wide.

A sculpture dedicated to Alan Turing created by Sir Antony Gormley has been dedicated at event at King's College where it is located. Picture: Keith Heppell
A sculpture dedicated to Alan Turing created by Sir Antony Gormley has been dedicated at event at King's College where it is located. Picture: Keith Heppell

“We’re here to celebrate Alan Turing and this fantastic sculpture by Antony Gormley,” she told the audience gathered around the work on Monday, before remarking: “I was at Davos last week and every single session included a discussion about AI.”

But you don’t need to go to Davos to get a sense of the great man, not least because as part of the opening, visitors were invited into the adjacent Audit Room for an Alan Turing exhibition, curated from King’s College archives. It included a letter from one of his teachers, a Mr Andrew, who wrote of Turing’s school days: “He had remarkable powers of concentration… when concentrating.”

A caption for another Turing letter reads: “It may be a translation of a codebreaking problem into n-dimensional geometry.”

A sculpture dedicated to Alan Turing created by Sir Antony Gormley has been dedicated at event at King's College where it is located. Pictured, Provost of King’s Dr Gillian Tett with Sir Antony Gormley. Picture: Keith Heppell
A sculpture dedicated to Alan Turing created by Sir Antony Gormley has been dedicated at event at King's College where it is located. Pictured, Provost of King’s Dr Gillian Tett with Sir Antony Gormley. Picture: Keith Heppell

There’s humour too. When he arrives in the US for his first visit to Princeton University, in 1935, he writes home, saying: “After getting through the customs I had to go through the ceremony of initiation to the USA, consisting of being swindled by a taxi driver.”

In a letter to a colleague, after his 1952 trial, he writes of his mother: “I have been subjecting her to a good deal of sexual enlightenment and she seems to have stood up to it very well.”

It is quite a journey to go from this private world out to King’s and behold the structure by the King’s Front Court Library arches. It was good that King’s former provost, Michael Proctor – in situ when the sculpture was first planned – said in his speech: “We should remember his difficult life as a homosexual man – King’s was much less oppressive and that was helpful to him.”

Because for that we have good cause to be thankful.

A sculpture dedicated to Alan Turing created by Sir Antony Gormley has been dedicated at event at King's College where it is located. Picture: Keith Heppell
A sculpture dedicated to Alan Turing created by Sir Antony Gormley has been dedicated at event at King's College where it is located. Picture: Keith Heppell

Antony Gormley on the sculpture

“Alan Turing unlocked the door between the industrial and the information ages. I wanted to make the best sculpture I could to honour a man who was pivotal in changing the course of all our lives. It is not about the memorialisation of a death, but about a celebration of the opportunities that a life allowed.

“I want this work to be something that the life of the college lives with and that will be a continual source of questioning, of projection, a marker of an elusive relationship to a person and our evolving time.”

Provost Gillian Tett on the sculpture

“Antony Gormley’s sculpture is designed to reflect both Turing’s brilliance and his vulnerability, but at the same time the sculpture also embodies the transformation of the industrial into the information age. Alan Turing played a crucial part in this transformation, one that continues to reshape our world today.”



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