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Ambitiously blending art and science, Dr. Libby Heaney, a quantum physicist turned artist, is set to unveil her latest work, ‘Heartbreak and Magic,’ at Somerset House in London on February 9. This immersive virtual reality artwork, a product of Heaney’s residency at Somerset House Studios, is commissioned by VIVE Arts, a global arts and technology initiative.

‘Heartbreak and Magic’ represents a significant milestone in Heaney’s artistic journey, which began after she transitioned from a scientific career in Quantum Information Science at the University of Oxford and the National University of Singapore. The transition led Heaney to pursue a creative path at Central Saint Martins Art School in London, where she graduated in 2015. Since then, Heaney has been entwining her deep understanding of quantum physics with digital art, using self-written quantum code, game engine technology, video, and image-making.

The exhibition, running from February 9th to 18th, aims to offer an exploration of the self and existence through the lens of quantum physics. Drawing on her experiences of personal grief and loss, Heaney creates an immersive space that delves into the non-binary and non-local qualities of quantum physics. The installation is a testament to Heaney’s belief in the “magical” possibilities of quantum physics, particularly the concepts of superposition and entanglement, which suggest inherent plurality and interconnectedness.

The physical and virtual realms of the installation are interconnected through a virtual reality artwork set within a physical space adorned with mixed media paintings and video. This creates a multilayered landscape that invites audiences to connect deeply with their emotions and explore various layers of self. The themes of cyclicity, liminality, and the multiverse are brought to life, reflecting the transformative changes and the fluid nature of existence.

Heaney’s work is developed through an iterative and experimental process that involves both physical and digital forms of creativity. This includes movement practice, writing, drawing, painting, bespoke quantum computing code, and game engine prototyping. This approach is evident in ‘Heartbreak and Magic’, where Heaney’s experimentation with quantum computing is brought into virtual reality for the first time, marking a significant step in her artistic exploration.

In her process, Heaney developed bespoke quantum algorithms that demonstrate different non-binary quantum processes, such as entanglement and superposition. Working in collaboration with lead developer Gabriel Stones, Heaney used quantum data to manipulate content within the Unity game engine, creating layered, palimpsest-like visual effects in the artwork. These effects mirror the quantum concepts of plurality and parallel perspectives.

The music and sound design for the experience, created by Flora Yin Wong, further complements the visual effects. Wong used Heaney’s bespoke quantum sequencer to generate sounds that match the visual quantum effects, adding another layer of depth to the immersive experience.

Advance booking for ‘Heartbreak and Magic’ is required, with tickets available through Somerset House’s website. This exhibition marks a significant moment in Heaney’s career and in the broader landscape of contemporary art, showcasing the exciting possibilities when art and science converge in the realm of virtual reality.


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