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Heartbreak and Magic

, Somerset House, London

A new virtual reality artwork and physical installation by the award-winning artist, quantum physicist and Somerset House Studios resident Dr Libby Heaney debuts at Somerset House on 9th February 2024. The presentation is the result of a partnership between VIVE Arts, the global arts and technology initiative that supports artistic experimentation with nascent technologies, and Somerset House Studios, a space for experimentation in the centre of London connecting artists, makers and thinkers. 

VIVE Arts commissioned Heaney, who has been a Somerset House Studios resident since 2017, to create the work to reopen G31, the Studios project space dedicated to its artists and residency programmes. On view 9th-18th February, the exhibition, ‘Heartbreak and Magic’, will reflect on the shared missions of VIVE Arts and Somerset House, which is to support creative experimentation and collaboration across art, technology and social innovation.  

Drawing on the artist's own experience with personal grief and sudden loss, ‘Heartbreak and Magic’ explores the non-binary and non-local qualities of quantum physics to offer alternative perspectives on how we think and feel about the self and existence. The immersive installation invites audiences to connect deeply with their emotions by exploring layers of the self in both the physical and virtual realms. ‘Heartbreak and Magic’ will include a virtual reality artwork set within a specially designed physical installation featuring mixed media paintings and video, which will connect to the virtual experience. Audiences will experience a shifting, multilayered landscape that evokes themes of cyclicity, liminality and the multiverse.  

The installation continues Heaney’s explorations into the “magical” possibilities of quantum physics in particular the inherent plurality and interconnectedness within concepts such as superposition and entanglement. Heaney developed the work through an iterative, experimental process involving both physical and digital forms of creativity, from movement practice, writing, drawing and painting, to bespoke quantum computing code and game engine prototyping. ‘Heartbreak and Magic’ brings her experimentation with quantum computing into virtual reality for the first time. 

Using a quantum computer as part of the research and development for the artwork, Heaney developed bespoke quantum algorithms that demonstrate different non-binary quantum processes, such as entanglement and superposition. Together with cutting-edge graphics processing methods, in collaboration with lead developer Gabriel Stones, Heaney used quantum data to manipulate content within the game engine Unity to create layered, palimpsest-like visual effects in the artwork that would reflect the concepts of plurality and parallel perspectives.  Flora Yin Wong, who created the music and sound design for the experience, used Heaney’s bespoke quantum sequencer to generate sounds to match the visual quantum effects.  

Advance booking to ‘Heartbreak and Magic’ is required, and tickets are available.

Image credit: Libby Heaney, Heartbreak and Magic, 2024, VR experience, time variable. Courtesy of Libby Heaney.

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