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Tom Jennings by Alex Segade
Machine Gallery, Los Angeles CA
December 6, 2003 .January 24, 2004

The inaugural show at Machine Gallery in Echo Park (designed for
the purpose of showing installation and other non-wall art), Tom
Jennings's Story Teller calls to mind an old science fair project or a
dilapidated museum exhibit. One is greeted upon entering by a
large portrait of Alan Turing (1912-54) rendered in notation so
that close inspection breaks the image of his handsome, impish
face into disparate numerals. Beside the portrait is a framed legend
explaining that Turing was an "out-of-the-closet atheist homosexual
British mathematician." A brief biographical sketch follows:
Turing's 1936 seminal paper helped define the hypothetical
'Thinking Machine," he invented code-breaking machines in order
to help defeat the Nazis, and committed suicide at age 42. The text,
which is processed and re-processed by the machines in the exhibit
(Turing's contemporaries), is a cribbing from the book Alan Turing:
The Enigma by another homosexual mathematician, Andrew
Hodges. The biography has been rewritten by Tom Jenningshimself
an accomplished database programmer and Internet
pioneer, as well as founder of the zine Homocore (1988-91 )-and
the words appear on the page like half-remembered fragments of
a very personal story.

Jennings's installation presents a conglomerated contraption of
antique message devices, connected by cords and wires and plugs
as in an assembly line, all intertwined like the participants in an
orgy. A button placed before the piece invites the viewer to push it,
and doing so the machines come alive. A typewriter with no typist
loudly manufactures the story. On the page a disconnected segment
of inky narrative describes a boyhood in which Turing spoke with
his too-high voice much too often, plus another cryptic bit about
his grave disappointment concerning his treatment by the British
government and something about two men, random fragments
randomly served by a database. Lights blink on another quaint little
device and holes are punched in various rolls of tape that unspool
onto the floor, adding to the already significant pile of coiled dotted
paper. A final note is struck by an odd, tape-recorder-like noisemaker
that seems to bespeak, unintelligibly, a further translation
of the story generated by these melancholy machines.

A dusty pall hangs over these old gadgets in metal and wood
that feels a lot like the burden of history. In contrast to today's
small, sleek, and multi-purpose Blackberry and iPod, the Model 3
Tape Reader, Model 31 Vocalizer, WPS 7035b Writing Machine
and Telegram Printer allow a maudlin sense of regret to seep into
Jennings's homage in a way that seems appropriate to his obvious
identification with a past hero, particularly one driven to suicide
in a repressive time.

Story Teller explores the narrative tissue that lingers between
"homosexual" and "mathematician" when these two pieces of code
are placed side by side. But as with any code system, it is the placement
of signs next to each other that makes the meaning, so the
reader (human or computer) must interpret what the string means.
For Tom Jennings, "homosexual mathematician" is the emblem of
his outcast status. To my mind, it's a very awkward, mysterious, and
sexy turn of phrase. But then, I go for nerds.

 

 

Tom Jennings : ArtUS