Art and quantum computing meld in an IOP-backed project discussed at the V&A

30 May 2017

A project fusing quantum computing and art culminated in an event at the V&A in London on 11 May where artists and scientists described the artworks in the project and how they had worked together in making them.

The collaboration, which involved groups of scientists from the Centre for Quantum Photonics at the University of Bristol working with art students from the Royal College of Art (RCA), was one of a number of projects to receive a £2,000 grant from the IOP’s public engagement grant scheme this year.

It was led by Dr Libby Heaney, a research tutor at the RCA who has a background in quantum science research. Speaking at the VA event, she said one of the challenges in collaborating had been explaining the science without using the language of mathematics, but she had been “truly impressed by t he students’ ability to engage with the subject”, she said.

The aim of the project was not to use art to illustrate aspects of quantum science but to use early-stage quantum technologies to help to generate the artworks.

Heaney’s own contribution, Nibbles – Documentation of an Artwork Made by a Quantum Computer, used a four-screen video installation and two magazines to explore the relationship between quantum computing and meaning. Using a four-qubit computer she produced quantum artworks that were necessarily unobservable and so could not be represented in the video and magazines, which instead documented some traces of the collaboration process.

Scientists and artists who worked on several other collaborations in the project were there to talk about their work, including the creators of Alice and Bob, Measure and Matter, Original Simulations, The Alien Present and The Map is not the Territory.

Alice and Bob, by Daria Jelonek and Anna Ridler, consists of a series of love letters between photons created by taking snippets of quantum science papers and positioning them in a process controlled by the data from a quantum computer.

Measure and Matter, by Louis Schreyer, Thibaut Evrard, Taeyoung Choi and Marcela Uribe, explores the encounters of quantum computing and architectural space, using data extracted by measuring quantum entanglement.

Original Simulations, by Maria Euler and Ker Siang Yeo, examines what it takes for an artwork to be considered an original, using the concept of teleportation.

The Alien Present, by Amanda Baum, Rose Leahy and Rob Walker, employs the metaphor of gardening to consider an alternative way of talking about quantum computing. It presents an “alien” object with apparently strange growths on its surface and a crystalline landscape within.

The Map is Not the Territory, by Georgia Ward Dyer, is a moving image work showing the artist continuously performing all the gestures used by the scientists as they were explaining their work to her and to each other.

A question and answer session after the talks included discussion of the nature and possibilities of teleportation and the effects of collaboration on the thinking and plans of scientists.