Stranger Visions: Artist Creates Portrait Sculptures from Found DNA of Strangers

By - Monday, January 28th, 2013

Remember that pole you grabbed as the train jerked to a stop? Or the cigarette butt you tossed on your walk through Bushwick last week? Well, artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg may have creepily collected your DNA from these items, and is sculpting a portrait of you based off of it. We live in an age where most of us are so concerned with our electronic footprint that we forget simple things like touching a pole or spitting on the sidewalk can leave just as much behind as posting an incriminating “selfie” on your Instagram or checking in on Foursquare at your favorite bar. While we go through great lengths to guard our online identity, we don’t always try as hard to protect ourselves from the real world. Heather Dewey-Hagborg, an information artist from NY, got the idea for her latest project, Stranger Visions, from a single strand of hair that was lodged in a piece of artwork. The hair got her thinking about the genetic footprint we leave behind every day of our lives. With always evolving technology, she shows how it is becoming easier and more accessible than ever before for these microscopic traces to be turned into something much larger. Hagborg uses the DNA collected to to extract predictive traits from the sequenced genome, such as race, disease resistance, eye color, hair color, etc. She then uses the results to chart ancestry across a large printed map and finally generates a 3D portrait of her anonymous subject. The artist had her portraits (along with a Petri dish containing the DNA sample used) on display last week during the Eyebeam Annual Showcase and still has them up on her website to check out here. You can click through the sample portraits, the sample locations and even see what day and time she picked up the sample to rule yourself out of her experiment. The artist uses her own portrait as a control, to show just how accurate the software used really is.

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