Through cigarette butts and strands of loose hair, we constantly and carelessly discard our genetic material. One New York-based artist, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, used these random traces left behind by unsuspecting strangers to make sculptures of what their owners might look like.
In her Stranger Visions series, Dewey-Hagborg created physical models using DNA facial modeling software and a 3D printer. The masks reflect eye color, geographical roots, sex, and other traits, but not exact facial features because forensic phenotyping can’t yet fill in all the details. Stranger Visions calls attention to the potential for a culture of “genetic surveillance” made possible by inexpensive $1,000 DNA sequencers. “As a society,” says Dewey-Hagborg, “we need to have a discussion about that.”
Soon, our entire genome may be accessible to strangers within minutes, with fears of cloning or genetic hacking to go along with it. It’s unsettling to think that our DNA, and therefore our identities, are not as precious as we think they are.