Heather Dewey-Hagborg Stranger Visions 2012 3D prints, wooden box, documents, found samples dimensions vary, installation view in Trace Recordings Courtesy the artist. Photo: David Lawrey
A few years ago, Heather Dewey-Hagborg noticed a single hair caught inside a picture frame. She found herself wondering whose hair it was, how it got stuck in the picture frame, where that person was now and what they were doing. She was inspired by forensics TV shows, such as Bones, to embark on a project to find out as much as she could about the people who have left these little traces of themselves out in the world.

Stranger Visions is a series of 3D portraits made using DNA from chewing gum, cigarette butts and hairs Dewey-Hagborg finds on the streets and in the subways. She takes these to a lab where she separates gene sequences herself, and then sends sections away to another lab for DNA analysis. This analysis helps her determine a number of traits including sex, ethnic background, eye colour, hair colour, height, likelihood of freckles and propensity for obesity. She has developed custom software that then generates a 3D model based on these genes, which she prints on a 3D printer to achieve a life-size portrait.

Dewey-Hagborg displays the portraits together with a little box containing information gleaned about the person from the DNA testing, the original piece of chewed gum or cigarette butt, and a photograph of the spot where she found it.

Watch Heather Dewey Hagborg talk about her artistic process below