LAS is pleased to announce Ent-, a major exhibition by artist and physicist Libby Heaney (b. 1983) at the Schering Stiftung, Berlin from 10 February to 1 May 2022. Commissioned by LAS, Heaney 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 watercolor 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 watercolor in particular because the bleeding of colors 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.
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 com- puters 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-.
LAS (Light Art Space)
Schering Stiftung, Berlin
10 February – 01 May
Credits Installation view: Schering Stiftung, Berlin, 2022.
Photo credit: Andrea Rosetti