Cambridge, in England, has always been home to many new ideas. The University, one could argue, is the finest in the world. Addenbrooke’s hospital, one could also argue, is the best in the world. This is operated by the much maligned NHS. Cambridge is also home to the pinnacles of the high tech industries and it is a major centre of music, art and medical research. I live close to Cambridge and I love it, so I am biased.


In the southern quarter of the city, behind the railway station, much new architecture has sprung up rather like mushrooms at night. The edifices represent the leading edge of modern day living aspirations. People can live in a contemporary flat here. They would need to steady themselves though. The purchase price or the rent would make their eyes water. Amongst the sparkling structures here rests a futuristic piece of art.

Jem Finer is an interesting man to find out about. He is a computer science graduate qualifying at Keele University. He has spent many years working in that field. Nowadays, however, he is much more of a contemporary artist. He has had constructed from his own imagination a transparent ‘Supercomputer’. It stands higher than a man and is made of metal, glass, wood and numerous clear plastic pipes. The Heath Robinson contrivance propels ball bearings around the system and the process actually solves mathematical equations. The integrated wooden boxes operate as an ‘on’ or an ‘off’, as 00 or a 01. They look as though they originally contained cheese.


It is all presented as a work of contemporary art. It is a sculpture of an equation in fact. Jem has combined his two great passions to remove the mysteries of computer science. Observers can see through all of the wooden and plastic structures and watch the process happening. Those like me who find computers and mathematics and high tech stuff rather daunting suddenly get one of those light bulb moments. The piece of art is a visible abacus at work and one realises that the most sophisticated computer in the world must surely be just the same.

Part of Jem’s description of his sculpture is available to read on his website. It is not born of any talent to present the written word, seemingly. It goes as follows. “Supercomputer is an algorithmic sculpture in which the flow of ball bearings, carrying information through labyrinthine circuits of mechanical computational units, calculates minimal melodic phrases” It is just easier just to watch it all happen.


‘Supercomputer’ has much of Jean Tinguely’s sculptural machines and Sol LeWitts instruction based drawings and structures about it. It is an artistic shrine to the leading position that Cambridge maintains in the world of computer science. It is a form of dedication to the work of Alan Turing and the low profile but truly great, John Conway.

As the sculpture propels the ball bearings through its bowels, the sounds of the process can be heard. They are the sonic patterns of ‘Supercomputer’s’ mathematical calculations taking place.


If you ever visit Cambridge, take a look at this art work. It lives at Mill Park in CB1. Jem is sometimes there on Saturdays during the daytime to ‘fire it all up’ for visitors. You can have a chat with him and find great inspiration from his combined intellects.


The mechanism was put together by Darius Wilson Associates and the container was constructed by Urban Space Management. The sculpture presents Cambridge at its most obscure best. Rather like Picasso, it presents the world in a way that we do not normally perceive, but somehow all of it is closer to the truth.