In 2013, information artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg crisscrossed the streets of Brooklyn, New York with an eye out for the human detritus most of us choose to ignore: cigarette butts, hair, discarded chewing gum, fingernails. The DNA she was able to extract from each sample was used to arrive at a genetic blueprint for the individual who left the sample behind. Then, using a software program she wrote, she turned those blueprints into lists of phenotypical characteristics including traits like eye color, hair color, and skin tone. With the help of facial recognition software she customized, Dewey-Hagborg produced eerily lifelike 3D portraits of the anonymous individuals and displayed them in gallery showings for all to see in a piece titled Stranger Visions. The project stirred up some controversy, calling into question traditional notions of informed consent and genetic privacy.
Monday Buzz producer and engineer Harry Gilbert recently spoke with Dewey-Hagborg about her work and the societal, bioethical, and policy concerns it brings up.
All images courtesy of Heather Dewey-Hagborg.