Jan 20, 2016 | By Benedict

Chicago-based artist Heath Dewey-Hagborg has 3D printed two masks depicting the face of Chelsea Manning, the US soldier and whistleblower who was sentenced to 35 years in military prison in 2013 for violating the Espionage Act. The piece, part of the Victoria & Albert “Future Design” exhibition, has been titled “Radical Love”.

One of the most important political events of 2010 was the online publication of a huge number of classified US diplomatic cables via the online whistleblowing platform WikiLeaks. The source of those leaks was former US soldier Chelsea Manning, then known as Bradley Manning. WikiLeaks, led by the now-famous Julian Assange, upheld Manning’s anonymity, but hacker Adrian Lamo eventually informed US Army Counterintelligence of Manning’s responsibility. Manning was charged with 22 separate offenses, and sentenced to 35 years in military prison. The legitimacy and morality of her actions has been debated ever since, with some liberal thinkers staunchly defending her actions with public displays of solidarity, 3D printed and otherwise.

In an effort to affirm Manning’s existence, artist Dewey-Hagborg created the life-size 3D prints of Manning’s face using characteristics drawn from the soldier’s DNA sequencing, with a technique called “forensic DNA phenotyping”—a sometimes controversial method used by some police forces to create likenesses of unknown suspects. To obtain a sample of Manning’s DNA, the artist took a cutting of her hair and a cheek swab. Then, using advanced software, the DNA sequencing was translated into physical traits such as eye color, hair color and complexion. “Feeding in those different parameters, I could generate random variations of Chelsea’s face within a prescribed typology,” Dewey-Hagborg told the Guardian.

The 3D printed artwork is, according to the artist, a comment on Manning’s total disappearance from the public eye since her incarceration, but the work also comments on Manning’s gender transition: Chelsea announced her new identity shortly after her 35 year sentencing in 2013. One of the masks has been rendered with the gender genome set to neutral, with the other rendered as female, as though Manning had been born a woman. “She has been imprisoned and unable to be seen or visited for the duration of her gender transition,” Dewey-Hagborg explained. “As long as she’s been identifying as Chelsea Manning we’ve been unable to see her, so there was poetry to making visible the invisible.”

Manning herself, who is being held at the brig at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, agreed to provide DNA for the 3D printed piece because of the artist’s reputation for being “really good at examining the convergence of art, science and technology”.

The two 3D printed masks are being displayed at Davos, Switzerland, where neither artist nor subject has been able to view them—for greatly different reasons. “The faces were 3D printed and shipped from London directly to Switzerland,” the artist explained. “Tickets for the World Economic Forum are reserved for world leaders, and I wasn’t invited.”

Although disconnected from society, Manning began communicating via Twitter in April 2015. Despite being forbidden from browsing the web, Manning is able to dictate audio messages to intermediaries, who then publish the whistleblower’s thoughts on her behalf.

 

 

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TransTroops wrote at 1/21/2016 8:29:26 PM:

Heather Dewey-Hagborg's project is a publicity stunt. What distinguishes her creepy death masks of a living person is the veneer of science, involving DNA samples voluntarily submitted by Chelsea Manning. There is, however, nothing scientific about the result. Last September, the artist told Paper magazine that her process was selective. "I'll generate lots of different faces—different versions of this identity—and I'll go through and decide which one I think is the most compelling. Obviously, since I already know what she looks like, that does very much influence my choice. … I definitely was leaning more toward ones that I thought looked the most similar to Chelsea…. It's my interpretation, or my guesswork, of how she would want to be represented." Guesswork? Sorry, that may be art, but it's not science. Certainly there is no evidence that hormone replacement therapy, which Manning had been receiving for six months at the time her DNA was sampled, has ever by itself produced the dramatically sculpted nose and smoothly reshaped chin depicted in the "female" version of Dewey-Hagborg's diptych. Plastic surgery? Yes, of course. HRT? No way.



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