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Art Science

Stranger Visions: DNA Collected from Found Objects Used to Create 3D Portraits

May 4, 2013

Christopher Jobson

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You’re walking down a street in Brooklyn, gnawing on a piece of gum that’s past the point of flavorful.. In a hurry, you spit it on the ground without a second thought and continue about your day. Hours later, a mysterious woman arrives, surreptitiously collecting the sticky gum from the sidewalk and dropping it into a clear plastic bag which she then 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 have seemed 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. For Dewey-Hagborg, it happened in a therapy session. While staring at a framed print on the wall, she fixated on a tiny crack in the glass into which a small hair had become lodged. As her mind wandered, she imagined who this seemingly insignificant hair belonged to, and, more specifically, what they might look like. After that day, 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.

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Sample Location 6. January 6, 2013 at 12:25pm; Wilson ave. and Stanhope St. Brooklyn, NY; MtDNA Haplogroup: D1 (Native American, South American); SRY Gene: present; Gender: Male; HERC2 Gene: AA; Eye Color: Brown

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Stranger Visions is the result of her fascinating, if slightly disconcerting, line of questioning and experimentation: 3D printed portraits based on DNA samples taken from objects found on the streets of Brooklyn. Dewey-Hagborg worked with a DIY biology lab called Genspace, where she met a number of biologists who taught her everything she now knows about molecular biology and DNA. Via an interview with the artist:

So I extract the DNA in the lab and then I amplify certain regions of it using a technique called PCR – Polymerase Chain Reaction. This allows me to study certain regions of the genome that tend to vary person to person, what are called SNPs or Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms.

I send the results of my PCR reactions off to a lab for sequencing and what I get back are basically text files filled with sequences of As, Ts, Cs, and Gs, the nucleotides that compose DNA. I align these using a bioinformatics program and determine what allele is present for a particular SNP on each sample.

Then I feed this information into a custom computer program I wrote which takes all these values which code for physical genetic traits and parameterizes a 3d model of a face to represent them. For example gender, ancestry, eye color, hair color, freckles, lighter or darker skin, and certain facial features like nose width and distance between eyes are some of the features I am in the process of studying.

I add some finishing touches to the model in 3d software and then export it for printing on a 3d printer. I use a Zcorp printer which prints in full color using a powder type material, kind of like sand and glue.

The resulting portraits are bizarre approximations of anonymous people who unknowingly left their genetic material on a random city street. So how accurate are the faces created from this genetic experiment? The artist likes to say they have a “family resemblance” and no, unlike the scenario depicted above, a person has never recognized themselves in any of her exhibitions. Yet. There are some things such as age which are virtually impossible to determine from DNA alone, so Dewey-Hagborg casts each portrait as if the person were around 25 years old.

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Sample Location 2. January 6, 2013 qt 12:15pm; 1381 Myrtle ave. Brooklyn, NY; MtDNA Haplogroup: H2a2a1 (Eastern European); SRY Gene: present; Gender: Male; HERC2 Gene: AA; Eye Color: Brown

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Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg with a genetically derived self-portrait.

Dewey-Hagborg will be giving a talk with a pop-up exhibit at Genspace on June 13th, and QF Gallery on Long Island will host a body of her work from June 29th through July 13th. You can follow the artist via her website and also her blog. All imagery courtesy the artist. (via smithsonian)

 

 



Science

Magnetic Putty is Completely Amazing/Terrifying

April 15, 2013

Christopher Jobson

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Magnetic putty is just like any other putty in that you can handle it, sculpt it, and squeeze it in a fist as you visualize your enemies. But place it anywhere near a strong magnetic field and it will SPONTANEOUSLY ANIMATE and move to consume anything magnetic in its path like a voracious mutated slug. In fact the putty won’t stop moving until the object has been equally engulfed on all sides. PBS Digital Studios and Shanks FX used the putty in parts of their recent film short SCI-FLY, and just posted this extended cut of special effects shots that explore its heinous capabilities. To be fair, these clips are sped up quite a bit as the actual motion of the putty consuming other objects is only faintly perceptible in real time. Want to experiment with magnetic putty yourself? Get it here.

 

 



Animation

Art Class Advertising Reinvented: A Stop Motion Video Using Stills Taken from a Life Drawing Course

March 22, 2013

Christopher Jobson

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How do you advertise a life drawing course? You could photocopy posters from the last session for the umpteenth time and hang them on a wall, or maybe take out a tiny ad in the local paper and hope some people show up. Except that’s what we’ve been doing for decades. Creative duo Wriggles & Robbins decided to take a new approach in this brief clip advertising drawing courses at The Book Club in London. Using photographed stills of the students’ work-in-progress the team created this lovely stop motion video the that does an extraordinary job of capturing the energy, perspective and fun of a life-drawing class. Really cool, I wish it went on for another minute or so. (via it’s nice that)

 

 



Photography Science

Massive Bird Nests Built on Telephone Poles in Southern Africa are Home to Multiple Species of Birds

February 18, 2013

Christopher Jobson

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No these aren’t haystacks stuck in a phone pole. Visit the Kalahari Desert in the south of Africa and you’re bound to run into a peculiar animal called the Sociable Weaver Bird. The birds are called “social” not just because they live in organized colonies, but because they build massive homes out of sticks, grass and cotton that are home to several other kinds birds. That’s right, the nests are so large that birds of other species are welcome to setup shop, not the least of which is the South African pygmy falcon which lives exclusively inside the social weaver’s nests that often accommodate over 100 birds at at time. Via the San Diego Zoo:

The sociable weaver’s nest sees plenty of guests—a regular Kalahari Desert inn! The South African pygmy falcon Polihierax semitorquatus relies completely on the sociable weavers’ nest for its own home, often nesting side by side with the sociable weavers. The pied barbet, familiar chat, red-headed finch, ashy tit, and rosy-faced lovebird often find comfort in the cozy nesting chambers, too. Vultures, owls, and eagles will roost on the nests’ broad roof. Why are weavers willing to share the huge nest they worked so hard to make? More residents mean more eyes keeping a watch for danger. And the weavers often learn from the other birds where new sources of food can be found.

Photographer Dillon Marsh has a lovely series of weaver bird nest photographs titled Assimilation that are well worth a look. (via neatorama)

 

 



Science

A Tornado of Fire Filmed in Australia by Chris Tangey

October 1, 2012

Christopher Jobson

I’ve been traveling a bit so I’m a bit late to this as I know it’s been on a lot of news outlets lately. Regardless, filmmaker Chris Tangey shot this incredible footage of a ‘fire devil’ near Alice Springs, Australia on September 11th. In the unedited, raw footage recently provided by Tangey you can watch as the tornado—which is technically more of a dust devil—towers over 100 feet (30 meters) high. The Huffington Post explains that while footage like this is rare, these vortices of fire are actually pretty common.

 

 



Music

Music from a Dry Cleaner

September 20, 2011

Christopher Jobson

Sound designer and composer Diego Stocco (warning: lots of sound) continues his ongoing project of making music from uncommon objects and places with this new video using loops recorded from a local dry cleaner. Stocco has also made music from a tree, from sand, and even a a bonsai, among others. Of all of them I really think this is his finest. Make sure you make it past the 2:10 mark. (via neatorama)

 

 



Design Science

WWF: The World is Where We Live

July 26, 2011

Christopher Jobson

This is a fantastic new promotional short from the WWF. I can’t imagine how much thought and planning went into each one of these shots, from the use of color, to the choreography, and camera work. What a wonderfully executed vision. (via lustik)

 

 

A Colossal

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