What Wiki Taught Me: Heather Dewey-Hagborg

Since June, 2014, I've been editing Wikipedia.

What I find the most fascinating is the endless opportunities to learn something new. I enjoy choosing people or subjects to research that I know nothing about.

Heather Dewey-Hagborg

One of the first "rewrites" I completed was a page devoted to the work of artist and educator Heather Dewey-Hagborg. I heard her speak about her artwork on a Skepticality podcast.

Heather Dewey-Hagborg, July 6, 2012

Dewey-Hagborg is an information artist interested in "the intersection of art and technology". One of her first projects explored technology and human speech in an installation she called Totem (2010). With Totem, Dewey-Hagborg randomly sampled conversations which were fed through a computer she programmed to identify the most commonly used bits of language and, in a sense, create a new form of language based on the environment.

Perhaps what Dewey-Hagborg is best known for is her Stranger Visions (2012-2013) project in which she sampled DNA from found cigarette butts, hair samples and gum in New York City and analyzed their genetic markers for evidence that would give her clues about what their faces might look like: hair color, eye color, racial ancestry and the like. She wrote a computer program which analyzed the data and made 3-D masks of the results. While the technology doesn't actually exist (yet) to create a human face  from DNA samples (more is known about what goes wrong with a face in terms of genetic information--cleft palate, deafness--than what goes right), Dewey-Hagborg's art sparked a lot of conversation about genetic privacy, ownership of DNA materials, the increased role of DIY genetic laboratories in DNA sampling, bio-hacking, and the ethics and legality of sampling a stranger's DNA.

Stranger Visions-1

She followed up her Stranger Visions project by developing two products, Erase and Replace, which are meant to help users bleach out traces of DNA left on surfaces such as glass, silverware, chairs, etc. and then add random genetic material back onto the surfaces so individualized DNA cannot be readily identified. In addition, she co-authored The Official Biononymous Guidebooks 2015 with Jarad Solomon, offering DIY guides to erasing and replacing your DNA.

Other Dewey-Hagborg projects include:

Netlinguia (2003), Spurious Memories (2007), Listening Post (2009), Haptic Resonance (2011), Hydrophony (2010-2011), Who Owns You (2008-2011), Ohm I and Ohm II (2011), moc.elgooG (2012), Ohm IV (2013), Unlanguage (2013), DNA Spoofing (2013), Prism Break Up (2013), Invisible (2014)

The Wikipedia page for Heather Dewey-Hagborg may have changed by now. The online encyclopedia is constantly changing and evolving, but the page in the form I updated was featured in the "Did You Know" section of Wikipedia's front page on October 7, 2014. My very first page rewrite passed the nomination process! I was so excited, I forgot to get a screen shot.

I was and still am grateful for the opportunity to learn more about such provocative artwork.

References and Selected Resources

Heather Dewey-Hagborg (Website)

Aldous, Peter. (June 15, 2013). Who's looking through your discarded DNA? New Scientist. Vol. 218 (2921): 12.

Aldous, Peter. (June 10, 2013). Artwork highlights legal debate over 'abandoned' DNA. New Scientist. (online)

Colanduno, Derek (December 31, 2013). Pieces of you. Skepticality.

Dawsey, Josh. (March 2013). Art Emerges from DNA left behind. Wall Street Journal. Eastern Edition. New York: A19.

Gruber, Ben (July 2, 2013). Artist stirs privacy debate with portraits from DNA. Reuters.

Herper, M. (May 31, 2013). Artist create portraits from people's DNA. Scientists say 'That's impossible'. Forbes.

Krulwich, Robert. (June 28, 2013). Artist plays detective: Can I reconstruct a fact from a piece of hair? NPR.

Schwender, Martha (August 28, 2011). Populism, Technology and Interactivity. The New York Times.

Images: Heather Dewey-Hagborg with her self-portrait for Stranger Visions; photographer Dan Phiffer; Stranger Vision masks; photographer Heather Dewey-Hagborg

Youtube Video: Totem by Heather Dewey-Hagborg

Images and video used with permission



Janyce Boynton