DNA used to create art

Toni Yates reports
December 27, 2013 3:15:12 PM PST
We leave our DNA everywhere, from the side of a glass at a restaurant, to a stand of hair that falls from our head.

Now a New York City artist is taking a unique, and perhaps controversial, approach to her craft by using the DNA to create more than you might imagine.

You may want to think twice the next time you spit out your gum or drop a cigarette butt in public.

New York artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg might pick it up, extract the DNA and turn it into a 3D face that could like you.

"A lot of my work begins with a question. In this particular piece the question was 'what can I learn about someone from a single hair?'" Dewey-Hagborg said.

Once she finds a sample, she takes it to the lab to mine it for DNA and then analyzes the results.

"From a cigarette butt were where someone's ancestors likely came from, their gender, eye color, hair color, complexion," Dewey-Hagborg said.

That information is then fed into a computer program that generates a 3D model of a face.

"The way that I'm using code here is a lot like how a sketch artist would use a pencil," Dewey-Hagborg said.

It takes about eight hours to print in 3D at NYU's advanced media studio.

Then, the excess powder is removed to reveal the disembodied face from a stranger's DNA.

But there are limitations. The length of a person's nose or shape of his or her face cannot be determined.

"The faces have a general likeness. It might look like a family resemblance. Right now I can't determine age, so all of my masks are aged between 20 and 40," Dewey-Hagborg said.

Dewey-Hagborg started the project called "stranger visions" after creating her self-portrait two years ago.

Now, she's hoping it'll raise questions about genetic privacy.

"It's meant to be an exploration at the intersection of art and technology and science, and it's meant to be a provocation," Dewey-Hagborg said.