Manchester Art Gallery

The Imitation Game

An exhibition by eight international artists who explored the theme of machines and the imitation of life.

Manchester Art Gallery
Saturday 13 February 2016–Sunday 5 June 2016


I propose to consider the question, “Can machines think?… Are there imaginable digital computers that would do well in the imitation game?

Alan Turing, Computing Machinery and Intelligence, 1950.

The Imitation Game was an exhibition by eight international contemporary artists who explored the theme of machines and the imitation of life. The exhibition included work by artists Ed Atkins, James Capper, Paul Granjon, Tove Kjellmark, Lynn Hershman Leeson, David Link, Mari Velonaki and Yu-Chen Wang. With a title inspired by Alan Turing’s Turing Test, devised to test a computer’s ability to imitate human thought, introduced in an article while he was working at The University of Manchester, The Imitation Game included three new commissions and works never before seen in the UK.

As the birthplace of the industrial machine-age, Manchester has a rich history of computer science including developing the world’s first stored-program computer. The exhibition looked back to Turing’s timeless questions about our relationship with the machine, and explored their continuing relevance today. The Imitation Game formed a major contribution to Manchester’s role as European City of Science 2016 with new commissions, a publication and a public programme of talks, performances and workshops.


Lynn Hershman Leeson

Renowned for her pioneering use of new technologies and exploration of human/machine relationships over three decades. Hershman Leeson shows Agent Ruby (1998-2002), an artificially intelligent web agent. Over time, Ruby’s software has allowed her conversational abilities to become increasingly sophisticated, pointing to her seemingly independent craving for full personhood and recognition as a human being.

Paul Granjon

Granjon is interested in the co-evolution of humans and machines. His new work, Am I Robot, features a robotic presence which roams the gallery, interacting with visitors in some surprising and intriguing ways. Granjon will also present a live performance during the exhibition.

Tove Kjellmark

Kjellmark is creating a new robotic artwork in collaboration with the School of Computer Science at The University of Manchester, KTH, Stockholm, and Furhat Robotics. Two robots discuss the nature of human consciousness, their behaviour determined by SpiNNaker brain-simulation technology developed in Manchester.

Yu-Chen Wang

In 2015, Yu-Chen Wang was the Museum of Science and Industry’s artist-in-residence, supported by the Taipei Representative Office in the UK. Her research on machine objects in the museum’s collection has inspired an ambitious new work, Heart to Heart, exploring human qualities in machines, to be shown at both Manchester Art Gallery and the Museum of Science and Industry, including a science fiction text, live performances, a film and installation.

David Link

Link’s installation LoveLetters 1.0 is directly inspired by the history of computing at The University of Manchester and explores the relationship between machine logic and the imagination. In 1953-4, strange love-letters appeared on the Computing department noticeboard. One of the very first software developers, Christopher Strachey, had programmed a very early computer to generate love letters. In a meticulous restoration project, Link has written a contemporary version of the program to run on a replica computer.

James Capper

Capper creates walking, climbing, drawing machines inspired by the aesthetics of earth moving equipment and industrial machinery. Capper presents TELESTEP, a new prototype walking sculpture, which he will operate live in the gallery on advertised dates during the exhibition. He will also show an existing work, TREAD TOE, outside the gallery building.

Mari Velonaki

Velonaki’s Fish-Bird is an interactive installation that explores the relationship between two characters (robotic wheelchairs) called Fish and Bird, who have fallen in love but cannot successfully be together. Communicating through movement and text. Fish and Bird are responsive to the presence of gallery visitors, their own relationship and “emotional states”, with incredibly complex and unpredictable behaviour.

Ed Atkins

For Manchester International Festival in 2015, UK artist Ed Atkins presented Performance Capture at Manchester Art Gallery. Performances by MIF artists were captured onto computer, digitally modelled, cut and soundtracked, and then screened as a single computer-generated figure or avatar. For The Imitation Game, Atkins returns to Manchester Art Gallery with his final video work from the Performance Capture process.


Half term family workshops with Yu-Chen Wang

Tuesday 16 – Friday 19 February


Free, no need to book

James Capper live demonstrations of TELESTEP sculpture

Second floor gallery

Saturdays 13 February, 12 March, 9 April, 14 May


Free, no need to book

Curator’s tours

Saturday 5 March, 3-4pm

Friday 29 April, 1-2pm

Free, no need to book

Paul Granjon live performance

A performance-lecture including a selection of hand-made machines and cyborg songs, as well as up-to-date views on humans and robots.

Thursday 10 March


Free, no need to book

Making Conversation

Multisensory adult workshops with audio description

Thursday 17 March and Thursday 21 April


Free, no need to book

Tours in BSL

Thursday 14 May, 6.30-7.30pm

Sunday 8 May, 3-4pm

Free, no need to book

Live performances of Yu-Chen Wang’s Heart to Heart

Museum of Science and Industry

Friday 20 May: 10am, 11am, 12.30pm, 3.15pm, 4pm

Saturday 21 May: 10.45am, 12.45pm, 3pm, 4.15pm

Monday 23 May: 10am, 11am, 12:30pm, 3.15pm, 4pm

Tuesday 24 May: 10am, 11am, 1.45pm, 3.15pm

Book places via EventBrite soon.

Thursday Late film screening: Teknolust by Lynn Hershman Leeson

With an introduction by Professor Jackie Stacey, The University of Manchester

Thursday 2 June


The Imitation Game Roundtable

Presented in collaboration with CIDRAL (the University of Manchester)

Thursday 2nd June 2016

Followed by screening of the film Teknolust (starring Tilda Swinton, Directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson, 2002, 82 mins), introduced by Jackie Stacey at 6pm.
All events in the Lecture Theatre

Free, all welcome. No booking required.

Panelists for the roundtable discussion include: Professor Lucy Suchman (University of Lancaster); Dr Simon Parry (University of Manchester); Christina Runge (Gob Squad arts collective); Chair: Professor Jackie Stacey (University of Manchester).

Lucy Suchman is Professor of Anthropology of Science and Technology at Lancaster University. Her research focuses on critical analysis of projects in the design of humanlike machines, from homecare robots to remotely-controlled weapon systems.

Simon Parry is Lecturer in Drama and Arts Management at the University of Manchester. He is currently researching how contemporary performance engages with scientific research.

Christina Runge is a producer and dramaturg based in Berlin. She regularly works with the British-German arts collective Gob Squad.

Jackie Stacey is Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at Manchester and is interested in connections between histories of science and technology and the cinema. She is currently working on a new project on Tilda Swinton.



Ministry of Culture Taiwan
Arts Council England
Association of Art Historians


University of Manchester
European City of Science
Henry Moore Foundation


Manchester International Festival
Museum of Science and Industry



Yu-Chen Wang, It is just the beginning The Helix 2014.

Want to know more?

Exhibition curator Clare Gannaway writes about developing The Imitation Game on her blog.

Keep up to date with exhibition and display information from our team of curators @MAGcurators