28 July 2015

Faces from DNA Addendum

Searching research reports for last Friday’s blog post, Faces from DNA, I happened upon Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s bio-art project, Stranger Visions, and was blown away.  

Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s DNA-derived 3D-printed portraits at New York City’s Clockwork Tower Gallery exhibit, 2013. (clocktower.org/residency/heather-dewey-hagborg-stranger-visions)
Dewey-Hagborg is an assistant professor of Art and Technology Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago whose artwork has been exhibited internationally. She is also pursuing a PhD in Electronic Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
A face predicted by Dewey-Hagborg
from DNA extracted from a cigarette
 butt found on a sidewalk.

Stranger Visions is a series of 3D facial portraits she created from DNA she recovered from cigarette butts, chewed gum and other discarded items. Really!

The discarded cigarette butt from
which Dewey-Hagborg extracted
the DNA that led to the face.
To develop her project, she took a 3 week course in biotechnology, extracted the DNA from her samples, processed parts of the genome to facilitate identification of SNPs (see Friday’s post) and sent the results to a company for sequencing.

She input the genetic code she received from the company into a computer program she had written to produce a list of traits, such as gender and color of eyes and hair. Finally, she used a face-generating program she had modified from a facial recognition program to prepare 3D portraits from which she made her final 3D prints.

The location in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Dewey-Hagborg found the discarded cigarette butt. (deweyhagborg.com/strangervisions/portraits.html)

How does Dewey-Hagborg’s DNA-face prediction method differ from that of the researchers and private company described last Friday? I haven’t the foggiest idea. I would expect that her faces, generated and massaged for art, do not depict their source as accurately, but the general approaches seem similar.

One difference is certainly found in the theme behind Stranger Visions--privacy, how much information can be derived from your DNA and the potential for a culture of genetic surveillance.


-An article on Live Science website alerted me to Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Visions: www.livescience.com/50146-art-genetic-data-privacy.html
-Wikipedia provided descriptions of Dewey-Hagborg and Stranger Visions: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heather_Dewey-Hagborg
-One of Wikipedia’s references provided the Stranger Visions portraits: deweyhagborg.com/strangervisions/portraits.html
-The Live Science article led me to exhibit announcements by Clocktower Gallery in New York City (2013) and South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive in Austin, Texas (2015):
-Dewey-Hagborg developed Stranger Visions at Genspace, a non-profit, community-based organization in New York City that provides training and mentoring in biotechnology: genspace.org/
-DNA sequencing for Stranger Visions was done by 23andMe, a privately held personal genomics and biotechnology company: www.23andme.com/

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