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John Logie Baird Televisisor – illustration by Jude Montague

John Logie Baird’s Spirit of Invention Festival 2024

An informal DIY festival by artists to celebrate invention in its abstract and strangest everydayness is inspired by John Logie Baird’s work to develop television. Jude Montague talks about how she gets inspired by his spirit of invention.

‘Seeing by wireless’ was thought to be possible and before it was achieved many were talking about it and experimenting. But it was the self-propelled genius of John Logie Baird that pushed it through and made the first successful manifestation of this idea here in Hastings.

He had come to the seaside town for his health. He was told by his doctors that he would die if he stayed in London. This ‘DFL’ was actually originally from Helensburgh near Glasgow but it was here that he actually achieved the technological progress that he publicly displayed in London in 1925.

John Logie Baird was an outsider, driven by his enthusiasm for discovering and trying new things. He was inspired by the idea of the inventor, by the ambition to invent something, anything. He explored lots of different ideas, some of which seem pretty comical, but they were all part of the journey.

For example he had the idea of pneumatic shoes, cushioned by air, to aid walking. He experimented with this by putting balloons in his shoes and walking in the park, Local youth ran behind him laughing. He didn’t mind looking odd and standing outside conventional norms.

In fact something in his personality craved it. He cultivated his rather wild hairstyle, and also was known for walking in sandals around town in the depth of winter. He and his schoolfriend from Helensburgh, ‘Mephy,’ were good working companions, Mephy following John and helping him in his endeavours as they became local eccentrics.

John Logie Baird in his Soho laboratory working on transmitting images via wireless

John Logie Baird left Hastings after he nearly electrocuted himself in his laboratory at Queen’s Arcade. He wired many batteries in series to give a high voltage and did not protect his hands from the shock. Many wrote to him to beg that he take better care of himself: wear gloves! was the advice. It is touching to see how concerned fellow inventors and developers and investors were for his well-being. He was obviously seen as being rather reckless and maybe also vulnerable.

The spirit of invention in Logie Baird as I see it is many things. I feel it is very individual, it is a spirit of the bedroom inventor, scribbling away on paper, looking at objects, thinking about how they might be improved, how an idea might come to reality. His story highlights the need to stand outside the group and go to a place inside ourselves to allow our brains to express ourselves. This can manifest in a sketch, a drawing, a story, or a poem using art to work through something, not to copy what has been done before.

In this spirit many artists are coming together for the show to offer individual expressions in response to this theme, including Susana Sanroman, Natalia Zagorska-Thomas, Vanja Karas, Sarah Pager, Chris Simpson, Caroline Gregory, Julia Maddison, Montague Armstrong, James Wvr, Duncan Reekie, Lucia Scazzocchio, Monika Tobel, Neale Willis, Gary Willis, Sarah Milne, Mark Walter, Geraldine Swayne, Rachel Williams and Chris Coombes. They will contribute their visualised ideas which may include sculpture and painting alongside more unconventional gallery pieces to an exhibition at Electro Studios Project Space on 7-13 May.

Hastings is also a town of manufacturing audiovisual and electrical equipment at the Ponswood estate – read more here. For the exhibition we are also going to display some equipment so we can get up close with electronic components and I hope to continue to interview people about their stories in local industry and invention — so if you have any tales, please get in touch.

Stooky Bill and the Baird Televisor, courtesy of Hastings Museum collections

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Posted 13:25 Wednesday, Feb 14, 2024 In: Arts News

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