25 Feb Libby Heaney ENT –
Commissioned by our friends LAS (Light Art Space), Ent- is a solo exhibition by artist and physicist Libby Heaney. Heaney holds a PhD in Quantum Information Science and an MA in Art and Science and has been experimenting with quantum computing for several years. Only a handful of companies globally are developing quantum computers, and Heaney is one of the first people in the world to use this technology as a functioning artistic medium. No fully fledged quantum computer is yet in existence, but the technology can achieve results and speeds impossible with current computing.
Ent- is a quantum interpretation of the central panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s famous triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1490–1510). By using quantum code, Heaney manipulated her own watercolour paintings of hybrid creatures inspired by Bosch’s medieval monsters, landscapes that seem to shift and breathe, and exploding structures that float and re-form. Created using IBM’s quantum hardware and Qiskit software, animated with the game engine Unreal Engine and accompanied by a sound composition conceived in collaboration with musician Nabihah, Ent- is an immersive installation taking quantum computing as both medium and subject-matter.
Designed as a ‘black box’, the exhibition experience engulfs you in a 360° projection that takes us through the layers of Bosch’s painting – sky, buildings and landscapes, and water. For the artist, Bosch’s adjacent depictions of heaven and hell provide an analogue for the double-edged potential of quantum computing. This emerging technology is expected to create a leap in the possibilities of computing power, exponentially accelerating surveillance capitalism and disrupting existing encryption methods for privacy and data protection.
Just as Bosch’s triptych can be read as both a celebration of and warning against desire, Ent- explores the dangers implicit in our thirst for new technologies. 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, experiencing and acting 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.
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.
Kay Watson, head of arts technologies at the Serpentine in London speaks with artist Libby Heaney about quantum computing, her new artwork Ent- and their shared belief that art and culture can have a role in the development of advanced technologies. You can read about their interview here.