Difference Engine* is an evolving touring exhibition, a model of autonomous artist curation, by artists Mark Cullen,Wendy Judge Gillian Lawler & Jessica Foley, featuring Gordon Cheung**.
Taking the ‘first’ computer as a namesake, and adopting Charles Babbage’s observation that ‘Jamming is a form of error detection’ as our imaginative jumping off point, Difference Engine plays with the idea of ‘jamming’. In one sense ‘jamming’ signifies stasis, shock, or rupture, but in another sense, it signifies change, growth, improvisation and invigoration between players.
With this in mind, we work together through art. In many ways, Difference Engine operates similarly to oral storytelling, where the story changes each time it is spoken. Only, with Difference Engine, the story is made up of visuals, objects and props, as well as words. There isn’t one set narrative, and so there is a call to the audience to build their own associations and narratives from the pieces we present and organise in the exhibition space. The works brought together through Difference Engine weave personal concerns with concepts of science, geologic time, language, architecture and economics.
*Charles Babbage is attributed with having graced the world with what has become generically known as ‘the computer’. The motivation behind his early 19th century efforts, it seems, lay in his desire to bring into being ‘the first successful automatic calculating device to embody mathematical rule in mechanism’, thereby eliminating ‘human error’ in the tablature of numerical calculations.
The Machine would produce a uniform numerical certainty that the human could not, thereby ensuring precision & automation within the major fields of the day dependant upon the tabling of data: Astronomy, engineering, banking & insurance, navigation, construction & finance. Babbage did not live to see his Difference Engine exact it’s existence leaving the legacy of his designs in his wake he declared ‘Another age must be the Judge’
**Gordon’s works variously infiltrate the Difference Engine exhibitions. Principally, though, Gordon Cheung provides Difference Engine with a talismanic portrait of Charles Babbage, which has become something of a touchstone within each of our exhibitions. Ironically, the portrait is the one piece within the Difference Engine shows which remains constant.
Mark Cullen *** Gillian Lawler *** Jessica Foley *** Wendy Judge
September 2009 (revised Feb 2013)