Studio Sunday: Heather Dewey-Hagborg

A photo of Heather Dewey-Hagborg at work in her studio


Heather Dewey-Hagborg is a New York-based artist who works with human DNA. The artist extracts genetic material from discarded cigarette butts and chewing gum on the streets of the city and uses the resulting data to approximate the faces of the gum-chewers and smokers.


Dewey-Hagborg has a background in science, and the nature of her practice means that much of her work is done in a lab. The actual extraction and sequencing of the DNA takes place at GenSpace Lab in Brooklyn, and the artist uses 3-D modelling software to “sculpt” her faces before 3-D printing them as hyper-realistic masks.


Unsurprisingly, the studio space pictured here is somewhat sparse, and seems like more of a staging area -- the artist appears to be in the process of unpacking a 3-D printed mask, and another one hangs on the wall behind her. It’s possible that the artist’s “studio” consists mostly of a computer where she creates the images for the faces. To get such an impressive amount of detail with her masks would require an expensive, high-quality 3-D printer -- I wonder if this is something that Dewey-Hagborg has invested in herself, or if she uses an external facility.


There’s something almost eerie about the sparseness of the room otherwise -- Dewey-Hagborg’s faces are almost the only notable objects in the space, which lends them a certain power and presence.


Dewey-Hagborg’s practice has drawn attention not only from the art world, but from science and even law enforcement. While the artist’s masks are not identical matches to any one person, the technology that Dewey-Hagborg employs could theoretically be used to create highly detailed mock ups of faces wanted by police, or for other means.  

[image source]

Written by: Dallas Jeffs
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