DNA in art, investigation and research

In 2013 The Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board invited the artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg to Norway to discuss her exhibit ‘Stranger Visions’. Dewey-Hagborg’s artwork is again on display in Oslo and she will also co-operate with Mareile Kaufmann on her upcoming ERC project.

Image may contain: Gesture, Community, Art, Curtain, Mobile phone.

One of Dewey-Hagborg’s works on phenotyping. Photo: Getty images.

Stranger Visions

Heather Dewey-Hagborg is an information artist and bio-hacker with a broad international reach.  ‘Stranger Visions’ was a series of portraits created from DNA that she recovered from discarded items, such as hair, cigarettes and chewing gum. From the extracted DNA she tried to identify gender, ethnicity and other factors. In a second step, Dewey-Hagborg used software to create algorithmically determined 3D portraits.

The House of Art in Oslo (Kunstnernes Hus) is currently open and shows Dewey-Hagborg’s piece ‘Probably Chelsea’. It is a collaborative piece with trans-activist Chelsea Manning, who shared her DNA from which Dewey-Hagborg “extracted” 30 3D printed portraits. Probably Chelsea has become a central piece in her work. Amongst many other places, it was exhibited at the Fridman Gallery New York, the Exploratorium in San Francisco and the transmediale in Berlin.

Art and Digital criminological research

- Mareile Kaufmann, what intrigues you with Heather Dewey-Hagborg's art and how does this relate to your research project?

- Heather provides skilled and playful comments on current developments in biotechnology. In order to create such evocative pieces, you don’t only need in-depth knowledge about actual technologies, but you must also have a critical mind to foresee societal challenges and pair these with an excellent sense of creativity. I am honored that Heather took the time to be interviewed for my ongoing research about critical engagements with surveillance. Later this year, I will start my work on the ERC project Digital DNA. I will visit labs and talk to tech-developers to find out how DNA, evidence and digital technologies influence each other.

- The pandemic has demonstrated how rapidly new fusions of bio-information and technologies can take center stage in our everyday lives. I will take a closer look at DNA-databases and phenotyping-software in order to understand how they change the role of evidence in forensics. It’s wonderful that Heather is on the project’s Advisory Board, too.

You can see Dewey-Hagborgs work at the exhibition Actions of Art & Solidarity at Kunstnernes hus until 21.03.2021.

By Per Jørgen Ystehede
Published Feb. 23, 2021 5:17 PM - Last modified Mar. 8, 2022 9:48 AM