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Art & Design

Written by Mies van den Biggelaar

Heather Dewey-Hagborg
Image by: Heather Dewey-Hagborg

Creating 3D portraits with found DNA

Imagine: without thinking you’ve just spit your chewing gum on the streets. You might even feel guilty about it being there on the streets for the next 20 years. But now imagine you did all of the above, but instead of the chewing gum being on the street for at least 20 years, a mysterious woman comes around. Secretly collecting the gum from the street, putting it in one of these clear plastic bags and one month later you see a familiar face, your face, hanging in an art gallery.

That is the work of artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg, creating a 3D print of your face generated from the DNA found on the chewing gum you dropped on the street. Her series, "Stranger Visions", is a collaboration with Genspace, a Brooklyn-based DIY biology lab. With the help of Genspace, Heather Dewey-Hagborg was able to analyse DNA and determine the person's phenotype.

The results are fascinating portraits, presenting a look at how much of a person’s phenotype can be revealed through their DNA. Of course, this scientific art has its limitations as well, age for example is virtually impossible to determine from DNA only, so every portrait is constructed as if the person is 25-years-old. Heather Dewey-Hagborg said that the portraits have a “family resemblance”, but so far nobody has recognised themselves in an art gallery, yet. 

Want to discover more of Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s work? Visit het website or watch the “behind-the-scenes” video (from TED) below:

Heather Dewey-Hagborg
Image by: Heather Dewey-Hagborg
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