Our identities shape us. Even our physical features can give away a lot of information about ourselves, such as, our level of vanity, how often we sleep, how often we exercise, and so on.
But what about a strand of our hair, or the gum we just chewed? Apparently, these insignificant little pieces can also give away a substantial amount of information about ourselves. Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg creates 3D recreations of people’s faces, using DNA she finds on…old chewing gum and cigarette butts. It is incredible to think that these pieces of garbage, after a few moments in contact with our DNA, can still hold onto our genetic makeup, and then even recreate, albeit not an exact likeness, of ourselves. Almost as if the gum that you just spit out isn’t really gum, but a piece of flesh.
But more importantly; how is this even possible? The artist explains that while in her lab, she puts the DNA through a process called PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction), which helps her to study specific areas of our genomes, called Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms. After extracting the necessary amount of data, she sends it off to a specialist lab, where strands of DNA are created from the aforementioned pieces of information. These strands of DNA are then fed into a 3D printing program, ready for printing!
There are still some things that the DNA-infested pieces of gum and cigarettes cannot tell us, such as the age of the anonymous person (she casts each model as a 25 year old), but it’s still chilling to see the portraits, wondering if you’ll stumble upon a neighbour, or friend.
Or maybe these portraits are truly anonymous, and aren’t even representations of real people; merely the artists own creations in a lab, like a biological puzzle.