DNA Surveillance

IMPAKT TV episode with Heather Dewey-Hagborg

2 September 2021
20:00 — 21:00

Location: Online: Planet IMPAKT

What do cigarette butts and chewing gum reveal about our identities? What stories can be found in our DNA?

In the September edition of IMPAKT TV we will dive into the world of DNA surveillance with artist and researcher Heather Dewey-Hagborg. We will talk about the politics and biases involved in DNA analysis and the artist’s biohacking work. 

For her project Stranger Visions, Dewey-Hagborg collected hairs, chewing gum and cigarettes from strangers from the streets, public bathrooms and waiting rooms of New York City. She extracted DNA from them, and used software to computationally generate life-size 3D-printed portraits that represent what those individuals might look like. Working with the traces unwittingly left behind by strangers, the project calls attention to the developing technology of forensic DNA phenotyping, the potential for a culture of biological surveillance and the impulse towards genetic determinism.

Building on the insights gained from Stranger Visions, Dewey-Hagborg developed Probably Chelsea, a collection of thirty different possible portraits of whistleblower Chelsea Manning. All thirty portraits were generated algorithmically from Manning’s DNA. While Manning was in prison, forbidden from being visited, she sent the artist cheek swabs from which her DNA could be analysed. Genomic data can tell a multitude of different stories about who and what you are. Probably Chelsea shows in how many ways your DNA can be interpreted as data, and how subjective the act of reading DNA really is.

During this episode of IMPAKT TV we will go into conversation with the artist about her projects, and the potential and risks of DNA surveillance.

IMPAKT TV is a free event. Register to receive the streaming link

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This episode of IMPAKT TV is part of Face Value, an IMPAKT Exhibition at the IMPAKT Centre that runs from 18 September to 10 October 2021 and is curated by Rosa Wevers. Read more about Face Value here


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