10 Feb 2022 - 01 May 2022
Schering Stiftung, Berlin
A 360-degree immersive installation taking quantum computing as both medium and subject matter
For Ent- Libby Heaney has experimented with self-written quantum code to manipulate and animate her own paintings, merging them with the quantum native images to create hybrid organisms, breathing landscapes and exploding structures. They all come together in an immersive artwork centered around a 360° experience that unfolds to the viewer inside a ‘black box’.
Commissioned by LAS Ent-, is a major exhibition by artist and physicist Libby Heaney, who has been experimenting with quantum computing for a number of years. The installation is on view at the Schering Stiftung.
As one of the few artists in the world using quantum computing as a functioning artistic medium, Heaney’s Ent- is a 360-degree installation taking quantum computing as both medium and subject matter. No fully fledged quantum computer is yet in existence but the technology has the potential to achieve results and speeds impossible with current computing. Ent- explores the transformative changes quantum computing is expected to wreak on the future of everyday life.
Ent- is a quantum interpretation of the central panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s famous triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights (c.1490–1510). Visitors enter a black cube in which a 360-degree projection takes them through the layers of Bosch’s painting – sky, buildings and landscapes, and water. Heaney has used quantum code to manipulate and animate her own watercolour paintings, creating hybrid creatures inspired by Bosch’s medieval monsters, landscapes that seem to shift and breathe, and exploding structures that float and re-form. Heaney chose to work with watercolour in particular because the bleeding of colours into one another reflects the merging and blurring of the quantum world.
For Heaney, Hieronymus Bosch’s adjacent depictions of heaven and hell provide an analogue for the double-edged potential of quantum computing, which is expected to create a leap in the possibilities of computing power, exponentially accelerating surveillance capitalism and disrupting existing encryption methods relied upon for privacy and data protection. Just as The Garden of Earthly Delights can be read as both a celebration of and warning against desire, so too does Ent- explore the dangers implicit in our desires for new technologies. In placing Ent- in a decidedly religious context, Heaney also seeks to explore the ways in which technology can be said to have replaced religion in modern life.
Heaney also investigates the positive potential of ‘thinking quantum’. One of its most important concepts, quantum superposition, allows particles to exist in multiple states or places at once. Quantum entanglement binds particles together in a particular symbiosis unlike anything in the macroscopic world. For Heaney, thinking in terms of these new pluralities has the potential to break down binary thinking and political polarisation, engendering community thought that might solve global problems as severe as the climate crisis or allow for new paradigms when considering critical issues such as gender identity.
‘Working with quantum physics can subvert the endless categorizations and control of humans and non-humans alike in pursuit of never-ending profits, causing accelerating alienation.’
– Libby Heaney
In an entirely new visual language, Heaney creates plural visual effects only possible using quantum computing; digital images become hybrid and fragmented in a blurred, pixelated aesthetic that attempts to represent the layered reality of the quantum world. However, her work does not require previous knowledge of quantum systems and encourages viewers to make their own perception-based, emotional responses to the disconcerting yet invigorating quantum world.
Only a handful of companies globally are developing quantum computers and Heaney has been working with IBM’s quantum hardware and Qiskit software, supported by LAS, for three years. Accompanying the exhibition will be a short publication documenting Heaney’s collaboration with LAS and including several initial sketches for Ent-.
Libby Heaney is a British artist and lecturer who holds a PhD in Quantum Information Science from the University of Leeds and an MA in Art and Science from Central Saint Martins in London. She has exhibited widely in galleries and institutions in the UK and internationally, including solo exhibitions at Holden Gallery, Manchester (2021); Goethe-Institut, London (2019); Emmanuel Church, Loughborough (2021) as part of Radar, Loughborough University’s contemporary art programme and at Non-Space Gallery, Aarhus (2017) as part of their EU Capital of Culture programming. Group shows include RMIT Gallery, Melbourne (2021); Art-AI Festival, Leicester (2021); MUTEK, Montreal (2021); Etopia Center for Art & Technology, Zaragoza (2021); arebyte Gallery, London (online 2020); LUX with Hervisions (online 2020); Tate Modern, London (2016, 2019); ICA, London (2019); V&A, London (2018); Barbican, London (2019); Somerset House, London (2019); Sheffield Documentary Festival (2018); Science Gallery, Dublin (2017, 2018, 2019, 2021); Sonar+D, Barcelona with the British Council (2017); Ars Electronica, Linz (2017); CogX, London (2018) and Telefonica Fundacion, Lima with the British Council (2017).
As well as quantum computing, Heaney’s practice also incorporates AI and VR technology, using each of these tools critically to investigate how and who they empower and disempower. Often Heaney’s work subverts the usual uses of these technologies, forcing them to work against themselves to expose their drawbacks and dangers. Inspired by Surrealism and Dadaism, Heaney’s work often incorporates humour and nonsense to investigate subjectivity, truth and perceptions of reality, as well as our seductive relationships with new technologies.
A series of live programming around Libby Heaney's new commission Ent- with artists, musicians, key leaders from the world of quantum
On the occasion of Libby Heaney's solo exhibition Ent-, LAS and the Schering Stiftung join forces to present a series of talks and live events to take place in the closing month of the show. Through a variety of formats, the programme brings together voices from the fields of art and science, and tackles the complexities of future quantum technologies. By fostering interdisciplinary bridges, the events further Heaney’s ambition to build a collective understanding of the potentials of the quantum age.
Libby Heaney: Quantum Computing
Libby Heaney: Ent-, 2022
Immersive 360° installation
Sound composition by Nabihah Iqbal
Commissioned by LAS Art Foundation