Libby Heaney

Following on from the critique two weeks ago, we will take a brief look at four of the works in progress in relation to pieces from the V&A collection suggested by the curators Melanie Lenz and Douglas Dodds after seeing our works.

The artworks from the V&A collection do not refer directly to quantum physics/quantum computing, but instead deal with other relevant concepts, such as architecture, gardening and higher dimensions.  We can therefore ask how our artworks differ to these non-quantum works and by doing so, explore new creative possibilities of early-stage quantum technologies in art and design practices.

In order to explore the entanglements between our pieces and the recommended works from the V&A collection, we will follow Karen Barad’s diffractive methodology and read the artworks in the V&A collection through our pieces, looking for both constructive and destructive interferences, resonances and dissonances, nonlinear connections and the resulting patterns.

Marcela Uribe Fores, Taeyoung Choi, Louis Schreyer and Thibaut Evrard – Measured matter

How can concepts from quantum computing affect architecture?

In Measured Matter, the students are designing and building a hybrid virtual-physical column.   The degree of materiality of the column will be controlled through interaction with the audience members using digital sensors.   The work will illustrate how quantum physics brought about the destruction of a classical understanding of the world  and will use the column as a physical symbol of certainty, knowledge, heritage, and structure. Columns are always “holding” reality, keeping things up.

Daria Jelonek

V&A Samsung Korean digital artist Yiyun Kang projection mapped onto a column in the Cast Courts of the V&A as part of her residency.  She was interested in how each cast is simultaneously an object and environment and also questions of copies versus the original.  Similarly to Measured Matter, Kang’s work explored the fixedness of a column and how current technologies and perspectives can alter existing histories and linear temporalities.

Unlike Kang, the group are not obviously questioning the copy and the original as they are not working with casts or previous artworks, but the generative quality of Measured Matter means the work is continuously in flux with no obvious beginning or end.  In its current form, Measured Matter moves beyond Kang’s piece by dematerialising the column to a greater extent, projecting onto perspex and altering the quality of the projection contingent on the audience behaviour.  Depending on the final form of the interaction, this could lead to entangled emergent behaviour of the audience with the column.  Thus similarly to Kang’s piece, Measured Matter is comprised of both object and environment, but in a different way. Interesting patterns of behaviour between audience and the column may be observed.  For me, this could be reminiscent of Barad’s notion of intra-action, where subjects and actions emerge within the work as opposed to being independent of it.  The relations become more important than the people or the artwork individually.  Scale of the work will clearly be important in this.


© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Casey Reas

The concept of emergence also features in the work of Casey Reas, who writes code where simple rules lead to emergent patterns in a series of 2D works.  Here the works are independent of the viewer and the rules in the code result from classical (as opposed to quantum) logic.  Hencewith Measured Matter the group here have set up an intriguing scenario: they can now go on to explore the phenomenon of emergence between an artwork and the audience, resulting from the patterns from quantum simulations projected on the column and the interaction.

Rob Walker, Amanda Baum and Rose Marie Leahy – Quantum gardening

“If quantum computing is a field of potentials, how do we garden it?” Quantum Gardening approaches the philosophical problem of how we know what inter-relations to observe and how often.  In quantum computing, as in gardening, the balance between control and letting go needs to be a learnt and intuitive act.  Gardening becomes both metaphor and method for the future use of quantum computers.

Quantum Gardening

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Similarly to Measured Matter, this group is using interaction and projection, but in this case to speculate how we may interact with quantum technologies in the future, experimenting with the fixedness of images by applying dynamic simulations of quantum random walks to blur and distort otherwise set geometrical patterns.


© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Daniel Brown

It is instructive to diffract Daniel Brown’s work “On the Growth and Form” from the V&A collection through Quantum Gardening, allowing us to highlight some features of Quantum Gardening that result from working with quantum simulations and ideas, as opposed to classical concepts and code.

Responding to objects in the V&A collection, Brown uses software to continuously animate the flowers such that they are ever changing and continuously growing.

Both Quantum Gardening and On the Growth and Form are dynamic works resulting from complex mathematical algorithms.  The movement in Brown’s piece opens up new ways of viewing digital imagery and brings together nature and technology in an intricate dance.  The algorithm in Brown’s work is generated by classical maths/logic whereas the algorithm in Quantum Gardening is subtly different allowing for the exploration of quantum effects such as interference and superposition.  Quantum Gardening uses a quantum simulation to distort nature, whereas On the Growth and Form uses the algorithm to construct nature, highlighting fundamental differences between quantum and classical algorithms and thus the differences between quantum and classical physics in general.

Brown’s work has a linear relationship with the viewer, the continuous fluid motion of the work often mesmerises the audience, fixing the persons gaze for a certain amount of time.  Conversely, the motion of Quantum Gardening is fixed by the persons gaze through digitally mediated interaction, encouraging the audience to ‘un-view’ or move away from the piece to encounter its fluid nature.  Quantum Gardening must therefore balance the push and pull of the viewers attention and when this is achieved the piece will move away from the purely linear interaction of Brown’s work and focus on the entanglements of the audience with the artwork, in a similar way to Measured Matter.

Libby Heaney Post-experience: impossibility artworks

My research explores the consequences of producing a ‘genuine’ quantum artwork, one that resides within the inaccessible and invisible quantum wavefunction inside the quantum computer.  This artwork is invisible and inaccessible due to the fact that any attempt to measure or record the work causes collapse of the quantum wavefunction, until the computation is completed.

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 6.35.27 PM Computer simulations of a quantum bit and their clouds of uncertainty.

At the moment, we can simulate quantum computers and therefore quantum artworks using standard digital computers, but soon quantum computers will become so large, simulation by classical means will become impossible.  When this occurs, a genuine quantum artwork, i.e. one that exists within the quantum wavefunction, would be beyond representation and beyond experience, communicated solely by traces and metaphors that provide some glimpse of the form, structure and dynamics of this quantum object.

I am therefore interested in what this means for representation, ideas of copy versus the original, aesthetics, and also the consequences attempting a collaboration like this one.

This research is called impossibility artworks, because mapping out impossibilities in quantum information science (known as no-go theorems, for instance no cloning theorem and no super-luminal communication) allowed scientists to explore more deeply quantum properties such as superposition and entanglement and propose new ways of securing and processing information (cryptography and teleportation).  So by restricting possibilities and working within constrained spaces, new physics and information processing technologies were developed.  Einstein took a similar approach when developing his theory of special relativity.  Postulating that the speed of light is constant for all observers (whether moving or stationary) led to radical discoveries regarding the interchangeability and relative nature of space and time itself.

Taking no-go theorems as inspiration, I would like to initially propose a space of impossibility around genuine quantum art and state that such an artwork is

 impossible to interact with, impossible to copy  and impossible to represent

There are some subtleties around these statements that will hopefully lead to interesting outcomes.  Hence, my intention in constructing this space is not a negative one, but rather to act as a provocation for myself and others interested in working with quantum technologies to make new discoveries, much like how scientists used no-go theories to move information science beyond what was classically possible.


© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Making artworks in impossible spaces, reminds me of Manfred Mohr’s computer generated prints that use the skeleton of higher dimensional objects such as the four dimensional hypercube as a structure to generate lines in 2D.  Such higher dimensional forms while mathematically possible, cannot be built in our three dimensional world and as such we are left with traces and inadequate representations.  Rather than seeing this as an inadequacy, Mohr restricted himself to the mathematical structure of the hypercube and the subsequent lose of information when projecting parts of it onto a 2D surface to create an engaging and varied language.  Therefore the traces and metaphors that arise when attempting to describe a ‘genuine’ quantum art work may lead to new aesthetics and considerations in non-quantum art and design practices.

Anna Ridler and Daria Jelonek – Alice and Bob

“Alice & Bob” is an installation of continually evolving love letters whose parts are pieced together using data from a simulation of a quantum algorithm.  They describe the potential “separation” or “entanglement” of the  photons and by reflecting on the language scientists use to describe quantum physics, investigate how word meanings become evident from their context.



Early computer artist Vera Molnar simulated the degradation of her mother’s hand-writing as she became unwell in Letters from my Mother, questioning the ability of machines to perform tasks like handwriting that were previously thought to be only possible by humans (a question which is clearly still important today in other contexts).

Vera Molnar

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Vera Molnar

Alice and Bob  brings the human element to quantum computing and reminds us that emerging technologies will inevitably impinge on tasks thought to be only for humans. In this work, while the quantum computer is not writing love letters autonomously in a way that machine learning algorithms do when trained on a suitable corpus of texts,  the artists use additional digital code to store predefined patterns of text which the quantum computer then selects. Never the less, this artwork does speculate on whether quantum devices will be able to autonomously construct such meaningful exchanges and narratives across separated protagonists in the future.

Image credits: Daria Jelonek, Marcela Uribe Fores, Ker Siang Yeo, Amanda Baum