Artist creates portraits using human DNA

Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg has created a series of portraits from the DNA of the former US soldier Chelsea Manning, it has been reported. Following a two-year correspondence, the artist collected cheek swabs and hair clippings from Manning in order to create 30 3D-printed portraits, which are now on exhibition at the New York Fridman Gallery.
Ms Manning sent the DNA from Fort Leavenworth prison, where the former intelligence analyst was serving her sentence for sending classified information to WikiLeaks.
The collaboration between the two has allowed for Ms Dewey-Hagborg to combine her skills in technology, computer science and art with a transexual woman.
‘A Becoming Resemblance’ will exhibit at the gallery until September 5th. The Fridman Gallery has said that the works of art investigate “emerging technologies of genomic identity construction and our societal moment”.
According to the Guardian, Ms Dewey-Hagborg algorithmically analysed the DNA then used it to create 30 different portraits of what someone with genomic data might look like. Her work and commentary explores the way in which DNA can be interpreted and the “inherent determinism of those interpretations”.
When Ms Manning was convicted in 2013 she identified as Bradley Edward. In prison her image was repressed and there was only one image of Chelsea Manning – wearing a platinum blonde wig – which she is now associated with.
Ms Dewey-Hagborg explained how the exhibition came about: “They were conducting an interview with Chelsea Manning while she was in prison and they wanted some kind of portrait to accompany that article and she couldn’t be visited and she couldn’t be photographed at that time. So they reached out to Chelsea and asked if she’d be interested in having a DNA portrait made.
“What I’m hoping that people will take away from this is that our genome doesn’t care about who we are, and how open genetic data is to interpretation, how subjective it is. DNA data can tell so many different stories, so this is 30 of those stories.”
Over the course of two years, both parties exchanged letters and became pen pals. Both Ms Manning and Ms Dewey-Hagborg agree that there is something powerful about the exhibition opening now, especially at a time when Donald Trump attempts to crack down on whistleblowers and transgender military troops.
The final work of art in the exhibition is contained in a single room, depicting Ms Manning emerging from the US Disiplinary Barracks with a speaker phone exclaiming: “When they chill your speech, then they’ve won. So never shut up.”
The artist said she wanted the portraits hanging from the wall to feel like a crowd – mass support that is forming with Chelsea Manning, “like the movement that was behind freeing her as well”.