New art exhibit features life-size 3D portraits of Chelsea Manning based on her DNA

Posted January 13, 2016 at 3:41 PM

Heather Dewey-Hagborg – Radical Love: Chelsea Manning
Wednesday, January 20 – Saturday January 23, 2016
World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
Davos, Switzerland

As part of the Victoria and Albert exhibition Future Design curated by Mariana Pestana for the World Economic Forum, US-based artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg will premiere her work Radical Love: Chelsea Manning, full color life-sized 3d printed portraits of Chelsea Manning generated from her DNA.

Chelsea Manning is the Wikileaks whistleblower who exposed some of the U.S. government’s worst abuses and is currently serving a 35-year sentence in military prison for convictions related to those exposures. She is a transgender woman and Guardian columnist and a leader in the movements for transgender justice and government accountability.

The portraits were originally commissioned by Paper Magazine to illustrate their September 2015 feature conversation between Chelsea Manning and electronic-music artists Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurst, design duo Metahaven, and Web-activist Jacob Appelbaum.

The title of the piece, “Radical Love” comes from Chelsea’s resistance to the idea that she or her ideas are radical – a term she sees as polarizing and alienating. Instead, she points to how incredibly common it is to love and to simply want to be oneself. “Radical Love” points to a hope of moving past divisive political boundaries, to build community and new forms of knowledge and policy guided by compassion and empathy.

The work is generated using the technique of “forensic DNA phenotyping,” to create a 3 dimensional life sized “portrait mask” that is printed in a 3D printer. This “forensic DNA phenotyping process” is a problematic, yet increasingly common police practice of generating a likeness of a suspect from their DNA alone, based on traits it contains, such as eye color and skin color.

Incarcerated since her gender transition, and rendered invisible to the public due to the prohibitive policy on visitors, no one except her family, old friends, and lawyers, has actually seen Chelsea Manning. In addition to calling attention to Chelsea Manning’s erasure from the public eye, the artwork highlights the forensic conflation of gender and assigned sex at birth, presenting a diptych of portraits to represent Chelsea, one with an algorithmically neutral gender, and the other assigned female. The exhibition of both these possible faces side by side draws attention to the problem of utilizing chromosomes or birth assigned sex to assign gender as well as a larger issue of what it means to rely on stereotyped ideas of what a gendered face is “supposed” to look like.

Heather Dewey-Hagborg is most known for her provocative project Stranger Visions, in which she created 3D portrait sculptures of strangers from analyses of their genetic material that was collected in public places. Genetic information is inadvertently discarded by billions each day through shed hairs and lashes, dropped cigarette butts and gum, or saliva left on glasses and silverware. In addition to being accidentally discarded, DNA is routinely extracted and often stored from infants at birth, as criminal DNA databases are expanding exponentially. DNA can be interpreted to reveal sensitive information regarding disease risks, ancestry, paternity, appearance, and identity. Individuals can easily profile each other and themselves through genetic profiling services online.

The exhibition Future Design brings together artworks and emerging technologies at scales ranging from the micro to the macro, all of which point towards possible futures and foster debate about its consequences. Along with Radical Love, Heather Dewey-Hagborg will also exhibit Invisible, a set of functional sprays for erasing and replacing DNA traces. The exhibition includes work by Cody Wilson, Pauline Van Dongen, Studio ZUS, Taryn Simon, and Ruth Ewan.

Project website:

Paper Magazine conversation with Heather Dewey-Hagborg:–1427637327.html

High resolution images (Includes photos of samples + DNA extraction process):

See file “image index” for photo details and credits.

High-resolution images of the exhibition installation expected January 19.

Media Contacts:

Regarding the artwork:

Regarding Chelsea Manning: