Art is thought to be subjective. But with advancements in technology, driven by adept curiosity, one woman seeks to make art exact. To accomplish this, she extracts art from science.
Heather Dewey-Hagborg is working towards her PhD at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The name of this university correctly suggests the concentration of her degree path: Electronic Arts. In the past she studied Information Arts and Interactive Telecommunications. Now, she puts this knowledge to good use with an original yet familiar concept.
DNA in Art
For years, shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Bones have been using DNA evidence to uncover suspects and pursue perpetrators. Dewey-Hagborg takes this popular scientific concept of and turns it into a mesmerizing art form.
Stranger Visions is the name of the project that allows her to build sculptures of people’s faces whom she’s never met. By picking up pieces of DNA (from strands of hair, or cigarette butts, or pieces of chewing gum) she collects the basis from which she will create unique 3D artwork.
The Question that Drives Art
The curiosity that led her to merge art and biotechnology began when she noticed herself entranced by a single piece of hair. This led to a looming question: What is there to learn about the person who was once here?
In tireless efforts to answer this question (many times over), Dewey-Hagborg has come up with a complex process that allows her to create 3D sculptures of people’s faces from the DNA they leave behind.
The Complex Process
Knowing it is possible to extract a whole genome from one stand of hair, the information artist first took a piece of evidence to Genspace, a community biotechnology lab in Brooklyn. Then she developed a process that is both technical and intricate. In developing keen understanding of her discovery, Dewey-Hagborg has been able to outline, replicate, and perfect her concept. She has a personal account of this process available on her blog.
Ultimately, by amplifying sections of the genome she is able to assume a person’s unique facial features, like nationality, weight, eye color and more. She uses snips, which are the parts of a genome that link to traits. By correlating the results of amplification, and using computational programs, she is able to come up with a blue-print of the sculpture (or person) she will replicate.
As a result of her intellect, skill, and curiosity, Heather Dewey-Hagborg has brought more to the world than a new form of art. She is bridging a gap between science and the community and making it known that extracting and analyzing DNA is becoming more accessible to the general public.
After viewing the Stranger Visions exhibit, it is likely to experience a heightened sense awareness about leaving DNA behind. Just like creator of this 3D art.
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