Wednesday 14th October 2015Fighting Forgery with DNA
Forgery is one of the most prominent and destructive problems affecting the art world today. When it's impossible to go a single week without a new headline about record breaking auction sales that are then trumped the next month or even the next week, there is a huge amount of incentive for forgers to practice their illicit craft. Conversely, of course, there is also a huge incentive for artists, auctioneers, and insurance companies responsible for proving provenance of various works to combat the forgeries using every possible means at their disposal. Sometimes, that means inventing brand new technologies that outside the capabilities of most forgers.
The newest of these technologies? Using synthetic DNA as a uniquely trackable chemical signature.
It sounds like a story out of science fiction, but we're now living in a time when technology is starting to push the very bounds of credulity. Synthetic DNA is not particularly a new idea in academic circles, but the prospect of using it in practical applications is on the very cutting edge of science at the moment. The idea of using it to prevent forgery is the brainchild of the Global Center for Innovation, a part of the State University of New York at Albany. After two years and $2 million USD of investment funds from ARIS Title Insurance Company, an insurance firm that specializes in art authentication, they finally have a procedure that may soon begin to be used in commercial applications.
“We wanted a marker that was very hard to locate and not prone to environmental issues or tampering,” said Robert J. Jones, president of SUNY Albany, speaking to the New York Times. Due to the rapidly increasing technical capabilities of forgers, many companies who used to regularly perform authentications have stopped providing that particular service, as the legal consequences of making a mistake can be staggeringly expensive. With this new technology, the synthetic DNA will permeate the work and can then be read later by authenticators. The information encoded in the DNA will create an encrypted link to a database that contains all the relevant information about the piece in question.
No matter how incredible it seems, it begs the question that as DNA sequencing technologies become more and more common, how long will this particular approach protect artists from fraud? Perhaps it's always been the case, but it seems like nothing more than the next step in the technological arms race between authenticators and forgers.
Posted on October 14th 2015 on 11:11pm
Wednesday 11th March 2015DNA Artwork
One of the things we own almost intrinsically is our DNA. Actually, there is some speculation about the legal precedents involved in the situation, but regardless, nothing is more definitively "you" than your DNA. It defines every element of your physical makeup - though fortunately, for all of us, our experiences can still shape who we are as people, but to what extent? How much of our life is defined by our DNA? How much of our identities are defined by our DNA? These are the questions that artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg hopes to explore with her new project, "Stranger Visions", currently on display at the Clocktower Gallery in New York City.
The inspiration for the project struck Dewey-Hagborg as she walked the streets of New York. Despite large improvements over the last few decades, New York is still somewhat dirty, the way any big city is, but a large part of this garbage is a product of human usage - and every single time we touch something, we leave some kind of genetic trace material behind. Whether it's chewing gum, a coffee cup, or a stray hair, we leave our most private genetic information almost everywhere in our wake. Dewey-Hagborg decided to see what could be constructed from these remains, and began collected samples all across the city.
"It's meant to highlight questions of genetic privacy, and also point to questions of how technology like this might be used in the future," Dewey-Hagborg said in an interview with science news blog LiveScience. "I hope that when a viewer comes into the gallery, they question their own genetic privacy and think about the things that inspired me to do this in the first place."
Using genetic sequencing and 3D printing, she has created a series of facial reconstructions that adorn the walls of the gallery space. While it's difficult (or perhaps impossible) to recreate facial morphology perfectly from genetic markers, it's still possible to get a general sense of who these people were. The end result is more of a sketch, despite the realistic expressions that are visible on each face, hence the name of the show. After its stint at the Clocktower, the show will be moving to the Genspace gallery in June, and eventually to Long Island and then on to Mexico City.
Posted on March 11th 2015 on 05:32pm