The Issues of Inheritance, Disease and Identity: Using the Visual Structure of Genetics

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Currently DNA testing is the most direct way to determine genetic lineage. Most recently it has become a political tool for racial discrimination. In the US anyone questioned for terrorist activity will have a DNA sample taken and kept on file. The use of DNA and RNA will vastly change people’s lives. How this information is used and miss-used will define people according to medical, ethnic and racial lines.For this presentation, I will show three of my recent installation pieces that use genetic information both as the conceptual basis and the concept and the visual physical form in the works. It is through these exhibitions that I hope to both inform the public of the use of genetic testing as well as question the ultimate truths science now has put before us. To see work: http://academic.reed.edu/art/faculty/ondrizek/ Example -DNA Finger Prints: In 2003–4 we hired a genetics student to make paternity genetic tests of my husband’s Arab-American family. Fingerprint DNA: A Portrait of an Arab-American Family is a result of those tests. These tests take the form of a thick gel layered with the marks of DNA. In order to produce the effect of the gel, I scanned and enlarged the tests and printed them using dye sublimation on Ultra Sheer, a silk like material; I then layered these onto a loom like structure. The panels were then hand-dyed and sewn through to emphasize and connect the dark marks made by the accumulation of DNA. Each panel reflects different tests comparing members of the family. The metal structure from which the panels hang is a replica of an upright rug loom. The art of rug making has been practiced for centuries in the Arab world, and like the genetic material, the patterns are handed down through the generations. Doing DNA testing of an Arab-American family is particularly resonant at this time when those in the Arabic community, in the United States and worldwide, are watched closely and viewed with skepticism. The reproducing and layering in these pieces allow us to see that the identity markers of members of a family are aligned. This work is a literal representation of the characteristics that are carried for generations within one family. This work was made for the Portalnd Building where the FBI and Police offices are located.


Keywords: Art in Communities, Genectic Testing, DNA Fingerprinting
Stream: Art in Communities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Prof. Geraldine Ondrizek

Associate Professor of Art
Art Departmant Chair
Reed College, Studio Art/Artist

Portalnd, Oregon, USA

Geraldine Ondrizek is an artist and Associate Professor of Art at Reed College in Portland Oregon. She has taught courses in Sculpture, Architecture/ Installation, Social Practice, and the Artist Book at Reed College since 1994.
She received her BFA in 1985 from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and her MFA in 1994 from The University of Washington in Seattle, Washington.

Since 2001 Geraldine has used images of human cellular tissue and genetic tests relating to ethnic identity and disease in her work. This work, done on an installation scale, deals with both personal and global issues of ethnic identity and the use of genetic information.
All of her work is meant for viewer interaction and as a vehicle to gather information.

In 2003-04 while on sabbatical at Gasworks in London, Onridzek began to work with research on genetic anomalies to use in her work. Since that time she has collaborated with geneticists on several projects.

In 2005 the installation, “Finger Print DNA, A portrait of an Arab American Family was commissioned for The Portland Building through a Grant from the Regional Art and Culture Council. To create this work She collaborated with a geneticist to make paternity genetic tests of my husbands Arab American Family. The genetic test were the images used for this work. Each panel is the results of different tests comparing members of the family.

In 2004 she worked with genetic researcher, Cari Rue at OSHU to gather images of RNA that show the genetic qualities children inherit from parents. These images were used for a work entitled, “Repairing RNA”, shown at The Nine Gallery in Portland Oregon in 2004. The work traveled to the museum at the College of New Rochelle in New York in the fall of 2005.

In 2006 Ondrizek was awarded an Oregon council on the Artist Fellowship Award. Her work was in exhibitions at. M168, Tracing the Y Chromosome, was exhibited at the Hoffman Gallery at the Oregon College Of Art and Craft in September of 2006, and the Sheehan Gallery at Whitman College from January through April of 2007. A catalog of her work from 2004-2007 was published by Whitman College in 2007. Her work will be shown at The Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago in 2008.


Ondrizek has been an artist in residence at Gas Works in London, the Kunst Seminar in Schwabishall, Germany the Women’s Studio Workshop in New York the Anderson Ranch Art Center in Snowmass, Colorado, the Mattress Factory, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has shown her work at Willoughby and Baltic Fine Arts in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Regina Miller Gallery at Carnegie –Mellon University in Pittsburgh, the Frauenkirche-State Gallery for Contemporary Art Erding, Germany, The Portland Art Museum, Association Movement Art Contemporain, Chamalieres, France, The University of Oregon Museum of Art Eugene Oregon, the Hillwood Museum, Long Island University, the Matrix Gallery in Sacramento, and The MFA, Baltimore Maryland. Reviews of her work have appeared in Art Week, Art News, the New York Times, The Oregonian, and the Sudduetch Zietung, Munchen Germany.

Ref: A07P0141