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Stranger Visions: Portrait sculptures from genetic materials

Dr. Heather Dewey-Hagborg, an American artist and biohacker created “Stranger Visions” project. This project aims to use genetic material analysis to portrait sculpture. To do that, she collected genetic materials such as hair, cigarette butts, chewed up gum from public places. 

Dr. Heather Dewey-Hagborg is an artist and biohacker.  She interests in art as research and technological critique. Her project “Stranger Visions” has raised multidisciplinary questions regarding science, technology, and art.

Dr. Heather Dewey-Hargborg, American artist and bio-hacker. Ana Brígida for The New York Times

After working in this project, Dewey-Hagborg calls attention to the impulse toward genetic determinism and the potential for a culture of genetic surveillance.

The first step of the project is collecting samples. Then, the concerned crew brings samples are to a biology lab. And, they process it to extract DNA.

After its analysis, DNA helps to identify specific traits such as gender, eye color, facial structures, and ancestry. These traits are used as parameters in custom software to generate a new 3D facial image.

This image is sent to a 3D printer, which creates the final portrait sculpture.

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How much can I learn about strangers genetics from their hair?

“Is it possible to fall in love with someone through their DNA? How much can I learn about a stranger from a hair? These are some of the questions that have inspired my work, at the intersection of art and biology.” says Dewey-Hagborg in the statement on her website.

In today’s political world, we discuss privacy and surveillance harshly. However, Dewey-Hagborg has created a new dimension to the discussion.

“The question is who will access to this information and who will have the power to use it against you?” says Dewey-Hagborg in an interview with the BBC.

Related to the topic, some curators also question the work of “Stranger Visions” itself. They believe that collecting someone’s traces from public places and having her/him genetic information might be unethical.

“Artistic practice for me is like playing detective in a novel that is always changing; there will be no grand reveal at the end, but the work is a process of constant discovery,” says Dewey-Hagborg in her statement.

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