Stranger Visions, 2012-15
Dewey-Hagborg collects DNA samples unwittingly left behind by New Yorkers. She gathers cigarette butts, chewing gum, and threads of hair, lifts DNA from the items, and looks for genetic codes that indicate gender, eye and hair color, racial background and facial structure.1 She then feeds those genetic markers into software that generates a facial image and 3D-prints a sculptural portrait. Dewey-Hagborg’s portraits highlight the DNA trail we leave behind in our day-to-day activities; her work asks us to think about how discarded genetic information might be used in surveillance and crime investigations.
Helen and Newton Harrison map the effects of climate change and explore ways to rehabilitate damaged ecosystems.
Wilma the Pig, 2012
A pig wanders around an indoor meadow planted in LA's Museum of Contemporary Art. The project re-creates a similar piece titled Hog Pasture first realized in 1970 at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. In its first instantiation, the Boston Museum refused to let a pig play a part in the exhibit.
Helen Harrison discusses the audience's encounter with the work: "All of a sudden people are looking at the environment in one way or another. And they're looking differently. In other words, it's bringing their attention in a way that is meaningful; they're enjoying it."1
Greenhouse Britain, 2007-2009
Projected images trace Britain's shrinking coastline as the seas rise. The images delineated eight future coastal boundaries; each one displaying the effects of an additional two-meter increase in sea level. The UK's rivers expand and coastline recedes at each stage of the sea's invasion.
Beyond documenting the changes to Britain's coastline, the project also proposes a variety of architectural, economic, and environmental solutions to reduce the impact of surging tides. The Harrisons write: "One key element in this work responds to the fact that the waters will rise gracefully, posing the questions, 'How might one withdraw with equal grace?' and 'How might one defend against the ocean’s rise?'"2
Animal Superpowers, 2008 Animal Superpowers is a collection of wearables designed to help humans experience life from an ant’s, bird’s, or giraffe’s view. The ant wearable is best experienced by crawling on the ground. Two cameras attached to the hands send images to a display worn on your head. As you move around on all fours, you see the world from a low camera angle, close to the ground. The video image is also significantly scaled up, making small objects appear very large. Blades of grass become arboreal. The giraffe wearable adds height by mounting a periscope extension to the top of a your head. The device also lowers your voice’s pitch to match your increased size. And the bird wearable guides you along a path with feedback provided by a vibrating headband. Just as birds sense geomagnetic fields to help them migrate, your headband’s vibrations tell you which way to turn to find your way home.
Maes amplifies our sense of the environment by integrating human structures with natural systems.
Urban Corridors, 2011
To track the flight patterns and health of bee colonies, Maes installs sensors in a cluster of city gardens. The gardens not only record animal behavior but also create an urban green corridor that benefits bees and other animals.
“Ecological corridors rely partly on methods of urban agriculture, guerilla gardening, ecological management and social anthropology. Corridors can also make good use of avant-garde technologies, so that such projects become experiments on the edges of art, science and technology: embedded systems, novel sensors, low energy computing and sensor networks are useful for monitoring soil quality, plant growth processes, animal activity, pollution and the movement and interaction of people within the local environment.”1
The Peephole, Dancing Bees, 2014
Viewers look through a peephole to watch sped up imagery of a bee colony. The footage records ten months of the colony’s day-to-day interactions.
Invisible Garden, 2014
Maes builds a garden inside an old textile factory. The garden has four zones: “the naturalistic mediterranean garden, with olive trees and grasses; the edible forest garden, with bee-friendly trees, shrubs and ground cover; the vegetable garden with perennial and annual plants; and the herb garden with medicinal plants designed to support the health of bees.”
Maes aims to create a garden that appeals to humans and bees. She combines different plant species to support a complex, indoor ecosystem. She also distributes “poetic memories” throughout the garden — monitors play images and sounds inspired by natural structures.
Karl Sims creates digital simulations inspired by evolution.
"Twelve computers simulate the growth and behaviors of a population of abstract animated forms and display them on twelve screens arranged in an arc. The viewers participate in this exhibit by selecting which organisms they find most aesthetically interesting and standing on step sensors in front of those displays. The selected organisms survive, mate, mutate and reproduce. Those not selected are removed, and their computers are inhabited by new offspring from the survivors. The offspring are copies and combinations of their parents, but their genes are altered by random mutations. Sometimes a mutation is favorable, the new organism is more interesting than its ancestors, and is then selected by the viewers. As this evolutionary cycle of reproduction and selection continues, more and more interesting organisms can emerge."1
Genetic Images, 1993
Abstract 3D images evolve based on genetic algorithms and audience choice.
Evolved Virtual Creatures, 1994
Virtual creatures perform tasks that test their abilities — one test, for example, measures creatures' swimming skills. If the creatures perform well, they pass their genes on to the next generation. Over several generations, virtual reproduction and mutation create creatures with skills adapted to the task at hand.