Artist 3D-prints portraits from DNA left in public places
Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg collects gum, hair, and cigarette butts from public places to extract DNA data and create 3D portraits based on genetics.
We can't help but leave our DNA all over the place. If you drop a chewed piece of gum or a cigarette butt, it might get picked up by artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg. She may mine it for DNA, analyze the results, and generate a portrait based on the data. That's either really spooky, really cool, or a bit of both.
Dewey-Hagborg's Stranger Visions project combines artistry and science while raising questions about genetic privacy. She starts by collecting genetic material from public places. She then analyzes it at a lab, mining the DNA for information like gender, ethnicity, and eye color.
The data is then fed into a custom computer program that translates the information into a 3D model of a face. That model is printed out in color using a ZCorp 3D printer. The results are disembodied faces, but they aren't exact copies of the person who dropped the DNA. Dewey-Hagborg describes it as a "family resemblance.">
Stranger Visions all began with Dewey-Hagborg contemplating a stranger's stray hair. Combined with her viewing of forensics television programs like "CSI," and an interest in the issue of genetic surveillance, the artist decided to create the 3D portraits. It's a particularly unusual version of found art.
"Working with the traces strangers unwittingly leave behind, Dewey-Hagborg calls attention to the impulse toward genetic determinism and the potential for a culture of genetic surveillance," reads the project description. It's enough to make you think twice about brushing your hair in public.
Dewey-Hagborg has been working on the Stranger Visions project for over a year. She will be giving a talk at New York City community biolab Genspace on June 13 and showing her work at QF Gallery on Long Island starting on June 29. If you stop by, take a good look. You just might get a sense of familiarity about some of those portraits.