Artist: Heather Dewey-Hagborg Talks About “Stranger Visions”

Jessica Branks, News Editor •

On Monday, February 12, Emory & Henry College hosted artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg for a talk about her work at the intersection of biology, technology, and art. The event also served as the opening of her exhibition called “Stranger Visions”, which will be on display through March 9th in the MCA Gallery.

According to her website bio, “Heather Dewey-Hagborg is a transdisciplinary artist and educator who is interested in art as research and critical practice. In her lecture at Emory & Henry she discussed many of her past projects and the development of her artistic process.

With a liberal arts background, Dewey-Hagborg came to combine computer science with her artistic ambitions when she was at Bennington College in Vermont. She said that “a friend [she] met there who came from California and was already building robots and calling it art” was an inspiration for her during that time.

The centerpiece of Dewey-Hagborg’s installation in the MCA gallery is a collection of facial reconstructions. These life-sized, three-dimensional portraits are generated from the DNA profiles of people who have left their genetic material behind in everything from “cigarette butts and chewing gum on the sidewalk” to “stray hairs on the subway bench”, Dewey-Hagborg said in her talk.

This style of work evolved over time for the artist, and many of her most recent projects have drawn attention to the idea of biosurveillance, and the technology that already exists for that purpose. “We realize increasingly how biopolitical things are” she said, adding that she thought “there are anti-oppressive ways of using these technologies, and it points to how complex technology is, that almost everything can be used for something good or something bad.

One of the pieces that Dewey-Hagborg discussed in her lecture was titled “Radical Love: Chelsea Manning”, and was about the DNA portraits of the activist (and at the time, political prisoner) which she created for Paper Magazine. Regarding the political commentary that her work creates she said that she “see[s] the field as always already political, so if [she] was to make work that didn’t grapple explicitly with the status quo”.

An early article in Smithsonian Magazine about Dewey-Hagborg’s work in Stranger Visions was titled “Creepy of Cool?”, and that’s just what the artist hopes for. “It’s totally fine if people don’t like it”, she said, “it’s meant to be provocative and in particular it’s meant to be ethically fraught.

Dewey-Hagborg said that her “hope is that people start paying a little more attention to their environments, and in particular their algorithmic environments, and to really notice that the tools we use do have politics, and to be vigilant about that”. Her work will remain on display in the MCA Gallery space until March 9th. To find more information and pictures of her artwork, you can visit her personal website at

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