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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.

Stranger Visions faces
See anybody you know? Heather Dewey-Hagborg

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.

Heather Dewey-Hagborg
Heather Dewey-Hagborg stands with her DNA self-portrait. Dan Phiffer

(Via Colossal)