Essays, reviews, and interviews on art, culture, technology, and the environment

Privacy and Visibility: Heather Dewey-Hagborg Interviewed, BOMB Magazine

Six years ago, you were as likely to find Heather Dewey-Hagborg collecting discarded cigarette butts and chewing gum as you were to find her in a lab sequencing DNA. These two activities were the foundation of her Stranger Visions series, for which she made 3D-printed portraits based on the DNA she extracted from anonymous strangers’ trash. Fast forward to 2014, when Paper Magazine was planning an interview with then-incarcerated Chelsea Manning. The problem was that no images existed of Chelsea Manning, who transitioned from male to female while in prison; there were only pictures of Bradley Manning. Because Chelsea was under strict regulations that prohibited her from having her picture taken or released, Paper invited Heather to produce a DNA-based portrait of Chelsea. Chelsea’s only worry was that her portrait would look too “male,” so they decided to make two portraits, one parameterized to be “female” and another parameterized to be gender neutral. Heather and Chelsea expanded the resulting portraits to include thirty different variations of how Chelsea’s DNA could manifest, each entirely unique and equally possible. The group of portraits was the focal point of their exhibition A Becoming Resemblance at Fridman Gallery in October 2017. Heather and I recently spoke on the phone about the work and its broader cultural implications.

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