In honor of Helen Thorington
Helen Thorington, founder of the influential Turbulence.org (1996-2016), died on April 13, 2023 after a long illness. The lab is grateful for her passion and vision to showcase born-digital art and nurture artists, so many of whom built their careers through their association with Turbulence.org. For us in ELL, it has been a joy to work on The Turbulence Collection at ELO’s The NEXT over the last five years and with both Helen and Jo-Anne to maintain it for them. We are committed to this mission.
Below is the obituary that her partner, Jo-Anne Green, posted on Facebook:
“Helen Louise Thorington (nicknamed “Teedy”) was born in Philadelphia (1928), and grew up in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Richard Wainwright and Katherine Louise (Moffat) Thorington, and sister of the Smithsonian Zoologist Richard Wainwright Thorington, Jr. She was a graduate of The Baldwin School, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania and Wellesley College (1950). After graduating with a BA in Biblical History and attending Union Theological Seminary, New York (1951), Helen discovered her passion for English Literature. She studied at the University of Minnesota (1956-1958); continued with “Special Studies in the English Comic Novel” taught by John Bayley, New College, Oxford University, England (1959-1961); and completed coursework for a PhD in English Literature at Rutgers University (1965-1967).
While living in New York City, she compiled the index for “Growth and Culture: A Photographic Study of Balinese Childhood” by Margaret Mead, was a copy editor at G. P. Putnam’s Sons, and worked for the NAACP. Helen then moved to Towanda, Pennsylvania where she ran an antique refinishing business and wrote and directed a musical called “Frog Hollow Ghost.” She later ran a tavern in rural New Jersey.
After returning to New York City, Helen founded the nonprofit New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc. (NRPA) in 1981. Under the umbrella of NRPA, she was the founder and executive producer of the national weekly radio series, “New American Radio” (1987-1998); and founder of Turbulence.org” the world renowned net art commissioning website (1996-2016).
Helen continued to write and compose. Her radio documentaries, dramas, and sound compositions aired on radio, internationally, for thirty-five years. Her productions for National Public Radio (US) were among the first radio art works broadcast nationally (1977). She was commissioned by RAI (Italian radio), RNE (Spanish Radio) and ORF (Austrian radio) among others. Her early dance compositions included “Monkey Run Road,” “Blauvelt Mountain,” and “Valley Cottage” for the Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane Dance Company. Two of these works were revived for the company’s 20th anniversary performances at Jacob’s Pillow (MA) and The Kitchen (NY) in 2003. Her composition for the dance “Open Places” was reviewed in the New York Times (1980).
Helen also composed the sound score for video artist Barbara Hammer’s “Optic Nerve,” which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Biennial exhibition (1987). She received a New York State Council on the Arts Music Commission to create a second sound score for Hammer’s “Endangered,” which was presented at the Whitney Museum’s Biennial (1989).
After founding Turbulence.org, Helen created three works for the Internet, among them “Solitaire,” a narrative experiment that exploits the fun of a game and the challenge and satisfaction of telling a good story. In 1998, she initiated the cinematic, multi-location, networked performance “Adrift,” which combined movement through 3D space, multiple text and image narratives, and richly textured sounds streaming between virtual and real geographies. With her collaborators Jesse Gilbert and Marek Walczak, “Adrift” was presented at Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria; the tenth anniversary celebration of Kunstradio, Vienna; and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York City in 2002, as well as multiple times online. “Adrift” was supported by a Creative Capital grant.
Helen was a 1995 and 1997 recipient of a Meet the Composer grant, and a 1995 and 1998 recipient of Music Commissions from the New York State Council on the Arts. She was also a 2001 recipient of an Emerging Forms for Digital Art Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Deep Wireless Radio Art Festival, Toronto, Canada, commissioned “Calling to Mind” which premiered there in May 2005. Two later prizes were Winner, Aether Festival, KUNM-FM, New Mexico and Honourable Recognition, Prix Bohemia Radio Festival, Czechoslovakia.
Helen lectured widely on radio art, net art, and networked performance including: “MIT5: creativity, ownership and collaboration in the digital age,” Massachusetts Institute for Technology (2007); “Digital Arts Weeks,” Zurich (2007); “Music in the Global Village” in Budapest (2009); and “Sounding Cultures” at Cornell University (2011). She was also included in numerous exhibitions of sound art in the US and abroad.
Her writings were published in periodicals including Contemporary Music Review (2005, 2006); and Intermedia Art (Tate Modern, London, 2008). Rip on/off (Switzerland) published a collection of Thorington’s texts, “Il est si difficile de trouver le commencement,” in 2017. Helen co-authored, with Jacki Apple, the limited edition artists book, “The Tower” (2015). “The Tower” is in the collections of the Huntington Library; MoMA, NYC; Fales Library, NYU; Art Center College of Design Special Collections; The Getty; Virginia Commonwealth University Artist Book Collection; Frank Ellsworth Collection; and Baylor University Book Arts collection. Helen’s personal archive will soon be housed at the Library of Congress.
Helen is survived by her partner of 22 years, Jo-Anne Green, a sister, and numerous nieces and nephews. She was deeply loved and cared for by Regine Beyer and by her “village,” Lizi Brown, Marjorie Charney, Nan Frane, Kristine Grimes, Robyn Ochs, Peg Preble, and Deb Whitman.
In lieu of flowers please consider making a donation to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) in Helen’s name.