Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stranger Visions

Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg wins my award of the year for simultaneously being a classy, poised, creative genius and a weird, invasive, street creeper.  You see, D-H has found a way to create realistic 3D renderings of people all around the state of New York by simply gathering cigarette butts and chewed gum off the streets and sidewalks.

How, you might ask?  Or better yet, WHY?  Well, let's go back to the beginning.

D-H's creepy foray into scavenging for discarded items began in a public bathroom in Penn Station where she collected hairs from the sink of a bathroom. [Gagging already.] Her collection expanded shortly thereafter to fingernails, cigg butts, and best of all, already chewed and spit out bubble gum.  D-H is a PhD student studying electronic arts at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute.  She is able to extract DNA from the items she collects and sequences their genomic regions into a computer program, creating a model of the person who the discarded item once belonged to.  But D-H takes it one step further.  Instead of just being creepy on her computer in her own time, she creates actual sculptures of these people's faces using a 3D printer.

And thus was born "Stranger Visions."  Each creepy floating head is hung on a gallery wall, often accompanied with a wooden box holding the original sample that was collected and a photograph of the street or alley in which it was discovered.  If you are truly interested in the specific scientific process that D-H uses to analyze the DNA, I will link below an article from which has a few paragraphs detailing it.  If you're like me, however, you want to see the creepy pictures.  So, let's get to it.

D-H has even created a DNA derived self-portrait.  Judge for yourself its accuracy.  I think it's not too shabby.  D-H is quoted as saying, "It came from this place of noticing that we are leaving genetic material everywhere.  That, combined with the increasing accessibility to molecular biology and these techniques means that this kind of science fiction future is here now.  It is available to us today.  The question really is what are we going to do with that?"

The overarching problem I have with this is, um, this whole concept of, you know, CONSENT.  I mean, really, I am guilty of launching a piece of chewed gum in the air to see how far it can go.  I'm damn sure every smoker doesn't religiously deposit his/her butt into the designated ashtray.  And if every time your fingernail breaks off, you run to the nearest trashcan to properly dispose of it rather than letting it fall to the earth, I am going to sit here and silently judge you.  That being said, the gift D-H leaves with us all is now we have to be super paranoid that someone out there is collecting these items and, for all we know, a 3D model of our head could be plastered on the wall of an art gallery somewhere.  WTF.  Could you imagine if you happened to be in New York and wanted to check out some cool new art shows and, BOOM, there's your face looking back at you, soulless, unblinking, staring.  I mean, really, I'm sure there would be a way for her to identify these people based on their DNA to go ask their permission and this could even have a great forensic link for solving criminal cases if she were to hone her craft, but D-H isn't in this for the science.  She's in it for the art which makes her both cool as hell but (Disregard the terrible art pun.)


Reference Article #1

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