It’s a cold January day and you’re walking down a street in Brooklyn gnawing on a piece of gum that just passed the point of flavorful into the realm of tastelessness. In a hurry, you spit it on the ground without a second thought and continue about your day. Hours later a mysterious woman arrives and surreptitiously collects the sticky gum from the sidewalk and drops it into a clear plastic bag which she carefully labels. Flash forward a month later: you’re walking through an art gallery, and there, mounted on the wall, is a familiar face staring back at you. Astonishingly (or terrifyingly) it’s a 3D print of your face generated from the DNA you left behind on that random piece of gum that now appears in a petri dish just below the portrait. A few years ago this would seem like science fiction, the stuff of films like Gattaca, but to information artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg it’s how she makes her artwork here in 2013.
They say inspiration can strike anywhere and for Dewey-Hagborg that moment happened while sitting in a therapy session. While staring at a framed print on the wall she began to fixate on a tiny crack in the glass into which a small hair had become lodged. As her mind wandered she began to imagine who this seemingly insignificant hair belonged to, and more specifically what they might look like. After leaving the session she became keenly aware of the genetic trail left by every person in their daily life, and began to question what physical characteristics could be identified through the DNA left behind on a piece of gum or cigarette butt.