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Jem Finer: oration

Read John C. Struthers' oration on Jem Finer for the honorary degree of Doctor of Arts in June 2014.


Chancellor, it is my pleasure to introduce to you Jeremy Max “Jem” Finer.

Born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1955, Jem took a joint degree in computing and sociology at Keele University.

Jem’s background in mathematics and computer science dates back to the ICL 1900 mainframe computers of the early 1970s. An enduring fascination with deep time and space, self-organising systems and long-durational processes has been the impetus behind much of his work. His pieces “Longplayer”, “Cosmolog” and “Score For A Hole In The Ground” all reflect Jem’s ongoing commitment to challenge our concepts of how we interact with ‘music’.

During his residency in Oxford he invented the term “post-digital” to describe a change in his modus operandi; a return to a direct relationship with materials and landscape - as opposed to one mediated via a screen. His work there included two sculptural radio-observatories, Landscope, in Lough Neagh, N. Ireland and The Centre of the Universe, in University Parks, Oxford. Here he lived a semi-hermetic existence for a month, caretaking, collecting and collating the everyday signals from outer space.

Jem’s outputs derive from exploration of concepts at the edges where art and science intersect - producing works that inspire fascination, wonder and a hunger for more understanding of scientific principles in young people (and adults). His works are starting points for discussions around science and arts, and at a more fundamental level, critical thinking and engagement.

Jem Finer is an excellent choice for an Honorary Graduate at the University of Bath. Jem is a perennial figure at a swath of science institutions: Star City Cosmonaut Training Centre (Moscow), The Long Now Foundation (San Francisco, CA), Greenwich Observatory, Woolsthorpe Manor (Newton’s House), Oxford University’s Astrophysics Department, Jodrell Bank Telescope, The London Science Museum and The British Library. Jem also speaks at numerous events and institutions, in the media at Universities with arts orientations and schools, as well as being a major social media presence. His work, writings and interviews are increasingly cited in academic submissions.

In his work at the University of Bath, Jem has proved to be an excellent advocate for science and art, bolstering our reputation for cutting-edge endeavour. His recent work, Mobile Sinfonia, was created in an Artists Residency supported by the Institute of Contemporary Interdisciplinary Arts and run in The Department of Computer Science. The project uses digital technology for a musical piece, which spans the globe.

Through Mobile Sinfonia, Finer has helped the University of Bath by making contributions and fostering connections regionally and globally. The project was part of the Bath Digital Festival and X-Media Labs in Bath, and at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios (Box, Wiltshire) in March 2012. Mobile Sinfonia was selected as part of Fierce Festival at the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Hall in April 2012. Mobile Sinfonia also has participants from across the world.

Chancellor, you may also be aware of Jem’s work with The Pogues, being the co-writer of what has been cited as the best Christmas song of all time, ‘Fairytale of New York’.

Jem Finer then is an artist who is curious, international and extraordinary. His work to date has challenged, inspired and informed. The University of Bath has greatly valued working with Jem, a partnership that we hope will continue.

Chancellor, I present to you Jem Finer as being eminently worthy of receiving the Degree of Doctor of Arts, honoris causa.

John C. Struthers

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