Feb 10, 2022 — May 01, 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.
Heaney is the only artist in the world using quantum computing as a functioning artistic medium. Ent- is a 360-degree immersive 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 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- is on view 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.
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.
‘Quantum computing can give artists a completely new way of seeing and sensing the world.’
What is quantum computing, how is it used in art, what are the ethical concerns and what developments are conceivable in the future? A Guide to Quantum Computing for Artists by Libby Heaney for The Space.
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