Libby Heaney

Feb 10, 2022 — Apr 03, 2022
Schering Stiftung, Berlin

A 360-degree interactive 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 will unfold to the viewer inside a ‘black box’.

Commissioned by LAS Ent-, is a major exhibition by artist and physicist Libby Heaney (b. 1983) at The Schering Stiftung, who has been experimenting with quantum computing for a number of years.

​​She is the only artist in the world using quantum computing as a functioning artistic medium and Ent- will be a 360-degree interactive 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- will explore 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 will 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-.

A component part of Ent- will also be shown at the ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, as part of BioMedia: The Age of Media with Life-like Behavior from 19 December 2021 – 28 August 2022. Ent- will travel in its entirety to arebyte Gallery, London in May 2022.


Libby Heaney
Artist and Lecturer