Libby Heaney

On Thursday 1st March, members of the Systems Research Group met to discuss their work in progress.  Being half way through the quantum computer art collaboration it was a good time to take pause to reflect on the outcomes so far, to analyse any emerging aesthetics, approaches and themes and to discuss the collaboration in general.

We were very lucky to be joined by Melanie Lenz and Douglas Dodds who are curators in the Word and Image Department at the V&A and work closely with the computer art collection.

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In the critique, most works sought to move away from literal representations of the science and to apply quantum thinking or metaphor to other areas which then acted together to define the complex space that quantum computing occupies.

Interactivity was a common element throughout the groups, with the students giving various proposals for how the artworks could actively interact with audience members. For instance, in Measured Matter, the students proposed a column that deconstructs as one gets too close and in Alice and Bob, the love letters are set running by an audience member.  Why was interactivity so prevalent in the pieces?  Is interaction absolutely necessary to convey quantum concepts (both literally or metaphorically) or are we just taking the easy route with our work?  Or on the other hand, if we begin to define an emerging quantum aesthetics, would digitally mediated interaction be part of it?

In quantum physics, measurement (by us or other physical systems) destroys a quantum state and hence our ability to act cancels out our ability to gain a direct experience of the inner workings of a quantum computer.  Hence interactivity is a crucial property in exploring why quantum physics is so different to the world around us and how the classical macroscopic reality emerges.

My artworks God’s Dice and CLOUD both combine digital and physical components in interactive installations to explore quantum concepts and resonances to other fields.  Rafael Lozano Hemmer’s neon installation Entanglement  and previous ‘quantum’ works by former IED students in the Cat is Alive and Physics Happens in a Dark Place exhibitions were all interactive in some form too.

So how would the pieces produced in this collaboration, where myself and students are working directly with the quantum technologies, differ from previously quantum inspired works?  Is it even possible to move beyond the perhaps  more obvious metaphors and approaches (such as interactivity) when the quantum effects of the technologies, i.e. the entanglement, the quantum wavefunction, are destroyed when we, or anything else, tries to access them?  Perhaps the inaccessibility of the quantum world is one of the reasons why interaction is so important in works made with and about quantum physics as interaction is the impedance to genuine quantum behaviour; to seeing beneath the quantum curtain.  Interaction and measurement define the rabbit hole and the first stage to understanding the quantum world must set up this space.

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Examples of work

In Measured Matter (above) Marcela Uribe Fores, Louis Schreyer, Thibaut Evrard and Taeyoung Choi play with the idea of a virtual quantum column, one that deconstructs under interaction, as a way of representing the idea that everything is information, and information is also physical.

Quantum theory completely restores the way we understand the world, and the relevance of the development of quantum computing technology is that it wold be the channel to bring all this weirdness to our classical world. So in that way, this column generated by a quantum theoretical state (triggered by measurements)  would be representing the destruction of every classical understanding of the world, using the column as a physical symbol of certainty, knowledge, heritage, and structure. Columns are always “holding” reality, keeping things up.
In Alice and Bob (below) Anna Ridler and Daria Jelonek explore the metaphorical relationship between quantum computing and story telling through pairs of ‘entangled’ love letters, researching analogies between word meaning and quantum superposition.
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Photo credits: 1-5 Ker Siang Yeo, 6-9, Marcela Uribe Fores, Louis Schreyer, Thibaut Evrard and Taeyoung Choi, 10 Marcela Uribe Fores and 11- 14.