‘Pamela Hurwitz and her Friends’ are an exhibition of paintings and a book published by ARTicle Press in 2001. I invited a group of friends to provide a sample of their DNA. The outcome of this process was a series of painted portraits which were made by carefully observing the magnified digital images of the donated chromosomes and copying them as faithfully as I could onto separate canvases. Each painting was also assigned a particular colour scheme. The chromosomes organised (digitally) in order of size were numbered one to twenty two plus the xx female sex chromosomes and the y male sex chromosome. The full name of each donor was inscribed letter by letter in fluorescent paint underneath each chromosome.
The DNA in each of our cells contains our very own molecular code arguably revealing our health profile and the likelihood of the diseases we might be susceptible to. As well as a medical profile DNA can also tell us much about our ancestors, ourselves and our origins: similarities between species: where our relatives came from and what racial group they descended from. We are in fact a walking history book.
I started using chromosomes in my work in the early 90s as a means of suggesting the human body without actually depicting it. I also used the chromosome to indicate presence and absence in the first instance as a signifier of the re-settlement of Jewish immigrants into Britain at a period when eugenics was considered fashionable. Research into genetics has come a long way since I painted my first chromosome, and while new scientific insights into ‘who we are’ are fascinating the ‘new genetics’ also raises issues that continue to be troubling. The interface between the biological and the social raises many ethical considerations, such as definitions of what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘acceptable’ and who decides? In a global economy where profit holds precedent it is important to ask how will this information be used, by whom and for what purpose?