Figures in Limbo, 2021, single channel video with sound, 9min 18sec.

Figures in Limbo is an audio-visual animation exploring representations of the body in computer vision & datasets and parallels in western art history. The work investigates how cultural and historical biases are now being translated into code and what this means.  The title Figures in Limbo refers to the central panel of Bosch’s triptych The Last Judgement. This is Heaney’s third artwork using quantum computing algorithms to reimagine the bodies as boundary-less and form-less (her other artwork’s using quantum computing systems was Cephalopod Aliens 2019 and touch is response-ability 2020).

Figures in Limbo was researched and conceptualized on Space Studios’ London Art + Tech residency Jan – March 2020 and was subsequently awarded an Arts Council England Project Grant for production and to work with musician Barney Kass on the sound track. The artwork was shown online as part of Space Studio’s Art+Tech showcase, 2021 and with MUTEK ES+AR online showcase, 2021.

The work was made with the games engine Unity.  In the first scene, the artwork’s narrative was composed by an AI (Google’s Universal Sentence Encoder) weaving together descriptions of so-called canonical artworks such as Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man with fragments of text from academic papers on AI pose estimation, highlighting the continued search for the ideal body. Heaney performs poses from western art history and each frame is tracked by machine learning algorithm Open Pose which joins her joints across the image.

In the second scene, the AI-composed narrative is playfully deconstructed by Heaney to open up space for other possibilities, taking the form of a rhythmic poem. On screen, alternative bodies emerge: Quantum, hybrid, boundaryless, formless & weaving between worlds, these neglected bodies evade the omnipresent gaze of computer vision.

Figures in limbo, 2021, at Hundred Years Gallery, London, August 2021.