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Artwork Details:

  • TypeMixed media
  • Year2001
  • MediumStainless steel, polycarbonate agar jelly, bacteria colonies, cloned human DNA
  • Dimensions26.2h x 20.5w x 2.7d cm
More about this artwork:

“In 2000, the National Portrait Gallery commissioned me to make a portrait of Sir John Sulston, Nobel Laureate for his work on the sequencing of the human genome. This led to a collaboration between John and myself to make several works. The sequencing of the genome is a profound moment in human history; we are the first people to be able to read the instructions to make ourselves. What was interesting to me in the results of sequencing of the human genome was that we share 99.9% of our genome with everyone else and in fact most of it with every living thing on the planet, both animals and plants. I wanted to use actual DNA in the works, not illustrations of it. Self-Conscious is a strand of my DNA containing many complete copies of my genome preserved in 99% proof alcohol – which is ironic, since, being an alcoholic, I can no longer drink alcohol. The destroyer of one part of me becomes the preserver of another. There is also probably a gene in my DNA which contains the possibility of alcoholism. The portrait of John is a plate of agar jelly-covered bacteria colonies that contain random parts of John’s genome. This is the method used in the lab to read DNA. What I like about it is its abstract nature, yet in another dimension its utter realism. But these portraits contain information not only about how a sitter might look, but also of their emotional make-up, appetites and health. Family Portrait is about how biology is not destiny and how the bonds of love are just as important. The frame contains DNA portraits of myself, my wife, my step-daughter and my biological son. Genetically I am only related to one of the members of my family, my son. The DNA Garden is a kind of literal Garden of Eden. It contains the DNA of 75 species of plants and that of a man and a woman. In a sense, the real Garden of Eden is the common ancestor that we all share, some single-celled amoeba that lived millions of years ago. The other thing I really like about the DNA portraits is that they are like a tunnel through time. They are the ultimate ancestral portrait, as they contain parts of the genome of everyone you are related to, back to the beginning of life. I remember going to the BBC to do an interview with John on 11 September 2001, just as the news came through of the planes hitting the Twin Towers. It seemed to both of us on that day and since then that it’s similarity between people that is so much more important than the differences between them. To me that’s one of the important things these works are about.” - Marc Quinn, Recent Sculptures Catalogue, Groninger Museum, 2006

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