University at Buffalo
Department of


Art & Design

Art History

Visual Studies

Professor Paul Vanouse and The America Project at University City Science Center’s Esther Klein Gallery

October 20, 2016  by: Natalie Fleming


Among our many differences, humans have one thing in common: we’re all made up of DNA. The newest exhibition at the University City Science Center’s Esther Klein Gallery (EKG) brings this fact to life in a live biological art exhibit focused on DNA Fingerprinting.

The America Project, created by Department of Art Professor Paul Vanouse, opens on October 202016 and runs through November 19th. An opening reception will be held at the EKG, located at 3600 Market Street in Philadelphia, on October 20th from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. The artist will hold a talk preceding the reception at the Microsoft Reactor, located on the ground floor of 3711 Market Street, on October 20th at 5:30 p.m.

The America Project allows visitors to take part in DNA Gel Electrophoresis, the process Vanouse uses to produce recognizable images. Upon entering the exhibit, visitors will be offered a small cup of saline solution and invited to participate by swishing it in their mouths for 30 seconds, before depositing their solution into a large spittoon. Vanouse will then extract the DNA from all of these mixed-up cheek cell samples, and process the DNA to create iconic DNA fingerprint “images of power” such as a crown, warplane or a flag. The images will be displayed throughout the gallery as video projections of the live electrophoresis gels. (The processing of DNA will take at least a day, so the images that most people will see will be from previous visitors.)

In the midst of a tempestuous election season, viewers are invited to reflect upon some key concepts of America, such as the melting pot that is represented by the collective diversity of DNA samples, and the notion that the concept of power emerges from the people. Vanouse’s goal is to display how a single coherent image can be made from combined samples, and that while much is made of our differences, all human DNA is very similar.

Vanouse will participate in an artist residency at Science Center-based biotech company Integral Molecular. The artist will use the early-stage company’s labs to process DNA for the exhibit.

“By nature, artists and scientists are driven by creativity and embrace experimentation and innovation to understand the unknown,” says Ben Doranz, President & CEO of Integral Molecular. “We look forward to hosting Paul Vanouse – and seeing firsthand how his curiosity blurs the line between art and science.”

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