‘The Nightmare Room’ is a multi-platform projection work originally commissioned for the 2012 Blinc Digital Arts festival in Conwy.
It uses site-specific material, animation and augmented reality to examine ideas of transformation and the power of myth.
The 3-channel triptych was projected onto Conwy Castle from 26th to 28th October, 2012.
The Nightmare Room: Background ideas
The Blinc 2012 festival was dedicated to the centenary of Alan Turing, who is well known as the cracker of the enigma code and for his groundbreaking work in computing and artificial intelligence. Turing also produced an equally seminal body of work concerned with mathematical biology and pattern formation, specifically morphogenesis and the occurrence of Fibonacci numbers in plant structures.
These studies provided the initial inspiration for the project, and through research, gradually a narrative emerged that I wanted to explore in the work.
Turing was also an athlete, nearly qualifying for the 1948 Olympics. Around 1950 he encountered another runner out training (which was fairly uncommon at the time) and the two teamed up to become regular jogging partners, this was the young classical scholar Alan Garner.
Writing in 2011, Garner recalled how Turing obviously ran to think, talking endlessly about mathematics and biology. As they chatted they discovered a shared common experience; both had been traumatised at an early age by the Witch’s transformation scene in Disney’s Snow White. The 3-year-old Garner had been dragged screaming from the auditorium, and Turing regularly gave seminars on the psychology of the film at Cambridge.
Garner remembers Turing’s obsession with this story, “He used to go over the scene in detail, dwelling on the ambiguity of the apple, red on one side, green on the other, one of which gave death…… We discovered that we had both realized independently that quite often life and death are the same thing, beauty and evil are the same thing.”
In 1952 Turing was found guilty of ‘Gross Indecency’ i.e. homosexual activity, he lost his security clearance and was forced by the state to undergo a years course of hormone ‘treatment’ with synthetic oestrogen.He died two years later from cyanide poisoning, ending his life with a half eaten, possibly poisoned, apple by his bedside.
Garner went on to produce numerous striking works of fiction, rooted in place, myth and language. Among them is ‘The Owl Service’, a modern updating of the Blodeuwedd myth:
The original story from the Mabinogion tells how Gwydion uses the flowers of the Oak, Broom and Meadowsweet to conjure the maiden Blodeuwedd as a wife for Lleu Llaw Gyffes. She falls in love with Gronw Pebwr and they conspire to murder her husband, Gwydion punishes her by transforming her into an Owl.
In Garner’s work the three protagonists find themselves trapped in a remote Welsh valley and forced to play out roles from the ancient tale.
Central to the plot is a dinner service on which the intricate floral pattern can be seen as either owls or flowers, depending on your viewpoint, the chosen perspective determining destruction or salvation. This duality echoes Turing’s musings on the apple – one half giving life and the other death.