Three Witches’ reunion

Three Witches – one scientific and two artistic – have been brought together for a public display at The National Museum of Computing on Bletchley Park until the end of April 2018.

Never before have the three Witches been seen together, and recently the art owners met the museum computer restorers for the first time to view the science and the art, each of the three artifacts created three decades apart and spanning 67 years.

The WITCH machine, the inspiration for the two paintings, is the Guinness World Record-holding 1951 Harwell Dekatron computer, the world’s oldest working digital computer. Restored to full working order in 2012, it is now a key element of the Museum’s Learning programme in showing – in extreme slow motion – budding computer science students how computers really work.

The once-dead WITCH computer inspired John Yeadon, a thirty-something artist in the early 1980s, to create A Portrait of a Dead WITCH: ‘a humorous but sinister painting as an homage to a sad unused defunct machine.’ For Yeadon, the WITCH was ‘a diabolical contraption, a dusty hunk of hardware’ that reminded him of the 1950s Quatermass science fiction television series of his youth.‘My intention in 1983 was to paint a parody of ‘computer art’, a then emerging field of computer-generated art.’

A few years ago, that 1983 Portrait of a Dead WITCH disappeared, but a campaign by the artist and Museum rediscovered it on display in a Manchester café in the proud ownership of Kaldip Bhamber. “I just loved the painting and was fascinated to discover that it was of a computer – I had no idea, I was just fascinated by the painting!” recalls Ms Bhamber.

Further inspired by seeing the restored WITCH working at TNMOC and by rediscovering his lost painting, Yeadon re-interpreted the computer to create a new version of his painting: It’s Alive. ‘It seemed a fitting way to mark my seventieth-year retrospective,’ said Yeadon.

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