Effectiveness of Art in Communicating Synthetic Biology and its Implications for the Future

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Ellen Jorgensen, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, M.A.

Genspace NYC, United States

Jean Cocteau said “Art is science made clear”. To test the hypothesis that artworks can help clarify and contextualize advances in Synbio, we explored the viewer’s understanding of it before and after the work was presented. Specific case studies include ‘Stranger Visions’ by Heather Dewey-Hagborg for adults and bacterial painting for children. ‘Stranger Visions’ utilized current technologies to analyze DNA extracted from samples such as hairs, cigarette butts, and discarded chewing gum found in public places. Trait analysis allowed the artist to construct a portrait sculpture of an individual she had never met. Although 100% accuracy is not achievable at the present time, the work points towards the day when it will become more feasible, and challenges the viewer to ask themselves what that will mean to their sense of self, personal boundaries, privacy, etc. Individuals experiencing ‘Stranger Visions’ through exhibition or through two separate documentaries produced about the work will be surveyed to assess their understanding of the power and scope of the technology and their attitude towards it before and after the work was viewed.