Latent Figure Protocol, Paul Vanouse, 2007-09 Vanouse


(4) The first DNA “Fingerprint”.
From Jeffreys, Wilson, Thein (Nature, 1985).  Image appears in reference to the first usage of the term.
(5) Latent Figure Protocol, Vanouse 2005. This simulated image was the initial image undertaken. It shows a 12-lane sequencing gel. DNA is inserted into the  lanes at the bottom and travels upward  at varied speeds as voltage is applied to form the icon.

A “DNA fingerprint” is often mis-understood by the lay public to be a single, unique human identifier.  Its complex banding patterns imagined as an unchanging sentence written by mother nature herself that corresponds to each living creature.  However, there are hundreds of different enzymes, primers and molecular probes that can be used to segment DNA and produce banding patterns.  These banding patterns that appear tell us as much about the enzyme/primer/probe as the subject that they appear to reproduce. (Fig. 4) My point is that the DNA gel image IS a cultural construct that is often naturalized.

Today, the fingerprint analogy is crucial to the large-scale implementation of national DNA databases and expanding a disciplinary agenda. Recent US projects such as the Justice for All Act fit this description by permitting the retention of DNA data from those simply accused of a crime.  DNA provides much more personal information than do real fingerprints and is more vulnerable to speculative and discriminatory use by employers, health care providers, as well as the legal system.

The esoteric nature of DNA imaging and analysis has hampered discussion of the numerous issues raised by its implementation in the social milieu. The Latent Figure Protocol project seeks to downgrade the scientific authority of the  “DNA fingerprint”, to the status of a “portrait” (an association aided by my own status as “artist” rather than “scientist”).

(6) Beall Center, UC Irvine, 2013.  Photo by Karen Tapia. (7)  Performance at Transmediale.  Haus der Kulturen der Welt,  Berlin, Germany, 2011.

I am also seeking to confront the notion of genetic destiny—the idea that DNA somehow provides a
template not only for much of our physical appearance but also for our specific place within the societies in which we live.  For instance determining our income levels or our predilections toward criminality.  These ideas were common in the Eugenic era and have seen revived interest in the past ten years and particularly since the completion of the Human Genome Project (the list of every gene in human DNA).  Latent Figure Protocol images cheekily address this determinist viewpoint, literally reproducing the subjects’ cultural significations via his/her/its own DNA.

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