LoveLetters_1.0 at "The Imitation Game", Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, UK
13 February–5 June 2016
Exhibition website

Catalogue text

David Link's installation LoveLetters_1.0 is directly inspired by the history of computing at The University of Manchester and explores the story of a love letter-writing computer and the relationship between machine logic and the imagination.

From August 1953 to May 1954, strange love-letters appeared on the Computing department noticeboard. One of the very first software developers, Christopher Strachey (19161975), a peer of Alan Turing, had used the built-in random generator of the Ferranti Mark I, whose prototype executed its first program in June 1948, to generate texts intended to express and arouse emotions.

David Link discovered the story of Strachey's letter-writing software while doing his PhD, and has programmed an emulator of the Mark I computer to execute the original software. He discovered that, amazingly, the original program could generate up to 318 billion different letters.

LoveLetters_1.0 consists of a selection of love letters displayed on a blackboard, a reconstructed version of Strachey's love-letters algorithm running on 12 vintage cathode ray tubes, a teleprinter museum showing parts of the original Creed 7 teleprinter, as well as an information station enabling access to research materials related to the artist's reconstruction project.

The M.U.C. at the end of each letter stands for Manchester University Computer, the earliest electronic, programmable and universal calculating machine. That he used it to generate love-letters shows just how playfully pioneering Strachey was.

Clare Gannaway

Impressions from the show