The most exciting moments of the intersection of art and science, for me, are when artists’ use of scientific materials and methods reveal new aspects of their media. Genetic evidence is becoming increasingly important in both winning and overturning criminal convictions, yet the methods used to produce this evidence have been found to be inconsistent and subject to error and manipulation. In Paul Vanouse’s Latent Figure Protocol (2007), artistic self-reflexivity is transformed into an imminent critique of the methods of DNA fingerprinting. While such fingerprinting is conventionally used to create an image that uniquely identifies a person, Vanouse uses the same molecular biological techniques to create images that are – literally and figuratively – generic. For example, a copyright symbol is created as an apt “portrait” for an industrially produced microorganism whose genome has been patented.
Latent Figure Protocol is a live demonstration of the process of producing these images, which Vanouse performed most recently at Exit Art. Video documentation of the experiment is now available online.