I got a notice from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Science and Technology Innovation Program about an art/science presentation taking place on June 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. From their May 30, 2013 announcement,
Stranger Visions: The DNA You Leave Behind
Heather Dewey-Hagborg is an information artist who is interested in exploring art as research and public inquiry. In her recent project Stranger Visions she creates literal figurative portrait sculptures from analyses of genetic material collected in public places. Working with the traces strangers unwittingly leave behind, Dewey-Hagborg calls attention to the impulse toward genetic determinism and the potential for a culture of genetic surveillance. The project raises questions about the DNA we leave behind, privacy, and numerous legal and bioethical issues.
In this exhibit and policy discussion, Dewey-Hagborg will discuss her process and progress on Stranger Visions. She will join Professor Sonia Suter of the George Washington University Law School and Dr. Todd Kuiken and Eleonore Pauwels of the Synthetic Biology Project in a discussion and public Q&A about the bioethical, legal, and policy dimensions of the work.
You must register to attend the event. No RSVP is required to view the webcast.
Click here to RSVP. [If you are attending in person; viewing the webcast does not require an RSVP]
*** Webcast LIVE at [http://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/stranger-visions-the-dna-you-leave-behind]***
What: Stranger Visions: The DNA You Leave Behind
When: June 3, 2013 from 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Who:Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Information Artist and Ph.D. Candidate at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Professor Sonia M. Suter, George Washington University Law School; Nancy J. Kelley, JD, MPP; Founding Executive Director of the New York Genome Center; a representative from the FBI is tentatively scheduled to discuss their methods and protocols surrounding DNA collectionand analysis.
Dr. Todd Kuiken and Eleonore Pauwels of the Synthetic Biology Project will moderate the session.
Where: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
6th Floor Board Room
Ronald Reagan Building
1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW
For directions, visit: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/directions
To learn more about the Synthetic Biology Project, visit: http://www.synbioproject.org/about/
It was not immediately apparent to me that this event is being held as part of the Center’s Synthetic Biology Project event series. Interesting approach to bioethical and other issues.
ETA June 3, 2013: Eleanore Pauwels, one of the Wilson Center researchers on the panel, wrote a May 31, 2013 commentary on some of the issues raised by Dewey-Hagborg’s work on Slate.com (Note: Links have been removed),
… Heather Dewey-Hagborg, a 30-year-old Ph.D. student studying electronic arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., has the weird habit of gathering the DNA people leave behind, from cigarette butts and fingernails to used coffee cups and chewing gum. She comes to Genspace to extract DNA from the detritus she collects and sequence specific genomic regions from her samples. The data are then fed into a computer program, which churns out a facial model of the person who left the hair, fingernail, cigarette, or gum behind. Using a 3-D printer, she creates life-sized masks that offer a depiction of what the anonymous DNA donor might look like. And they may be coming to a gallery wall near you, with a show at the New York Public Library slated for early 2014.
Such a process might seem artistically cutting edge to some. But, for most of us, the “Yuck!” factor kicks in quickly. Whether you find it cool or creepy, though, this DNA-profiling experiment raises a number of legal and ethical questions that no one knows how to handle. To what degree does the DNA we leave behind in public spaces belong to us? Does a facial mask without a name raise the same issues as a photo? In either case, what exactly is our expectation of privacy?
Just because an individual sheds DNA in a public space does not mean that he or she does not care about preserving the privacy of the genetic material. There was no informed consent given to access that data. On the other hand, some might say the major problem is not unauthorized access to data but misuse of data. It is easy to imagine a scenario in which someone sequences the genome of an acquaintance (or rival) who left a cigarette behind. If the person who tested the cigarette found a risk gene for a mental disorder and posted the results on Facebook with the smoker’s name, the information could affect his social and professional life.
… To what extent do genetic traits (such as ancestry) tell you about how a person looks? Based on the analysis of these genetic traits, how accurate is the 3-D facial model produced by the computer? At the request of a Delaware forensic practice, Dewey-Hagborg has been working on a sculpture from a DNA sample to identify the remains of an unidentified woman. This opens another black box at the connection between law enforcement and what we might call “DIY forensic science”: Here, what is the role of the state versus that of the individual?
I recommend reading the commentary in its entirety. As for the questions Pauwels raises, I’m wondering how I’d feel if I saw a mask that l00ked like me at the New York Public Library in 2014. Of course, that begs the next question, would I recognize myself?