Commissioned by Light Art Space (LAS), Ent-, was a major exhibition by artist and physicist Libby Heaney at the Schering Stiftung, Berlin from 10 February to 3 April 2022. Heaney has been experimenting with quantum computing for a number of years supported by LAS since 2020. She is the only artist in the world using quantum computing as a functioning artistic medium and Ent- is 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- 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 centres hybridity: she 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. The audience members filming the immersive projection on their phones replace the naked bodies in Bosch's original. 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.