Gary Schneider: Genetic Self-Portrait




The Warehouse Gallery

November 13, 2007  – January 26, 2008


In the first solo exhibition at The Warehouse Gallery, artist Gary Schneider challenges the traditional definition of the portrait.

The show includes 55 photo-based works that Gary Schneider produced when he was offered a chance to create a new body of work inspired by the Human Genome Project (HGP). The HGP, a scientific race to uncover the mysteries of DNA, began formally in the 1990s and was completed in 2003. During that period, Schneider was able to collaborate with a number of scientists and was given access to advanced imaging systems from electron microscopes to x-ray machines.

The work in the exhibition ranges from images of his individual chromosomes made by a light microscope to panoramic dental x-rays. Schneider is known as a master photographic printer, and by combining his skill as a craftsman and selecting specimens for their aesthetic qualities, he moved beyond scientific descriptions to produce a personal portrait that asks us to consider how we are unique and where we stand on common ground.

Schneider had always been interested in alternative imaging techniques, and previous to this project he had been making images by imprinting his hands onto film emulsions. When he decided to include these prints along with the images he had been making with scientists, he realized that what he had been creating was a new kind of portrait. Ann Thomas, curator of photographs at the National Gallery of Canada, described it as a new approach that “challenges the traditional definition of the portrait, and revises our understanding of what it means to be revealed before the camera’s lens.”

By merging scientific accuracy with poetic resonance, Schneider has created a very personal illumination of how our individual identity is so closely linked to our broader understanding and use of the information contained in the human building blocks of our DNA. Through the personal exploration that went into creating genetic self-portrait, Schneider reveals that while we may always want to think of ourselves as more than the sum of our parts, our real promise might be found in looking at the 99 percent of ourselves we have in common with everyone else.

Genetic Self-Portrait Curatorial Statement
In genetic terms only one percent of you is you. This small fraction of your DNA contains all the necessary genetic information to define your shape; size; eye, hair, and skin color; and every other feature you recognize in the mirror as defining your unique identity. The remaining ninety-nine percent of your individual essence is exactly the same as every other human being.

Since 1953 when scientists James Watson and Francis Crick figured out the structure of DNA, the essential ingredient of all life, the potentials and pitfalls of their breakthrough has been anticipated and debated by everyone from farmers to politicians with varying degrees of hope and doom. In the late 1990s artist Gary Schneider entered the DNA dialogue and began a collaborative project with a number of scientists, resulting in the creation of a new kind of self-portrait that reached down to the level of his individual chromosomes.

Using a variety of printing techniques and a selection process that merges poetic resonance with scientific accuracy, Schneider presents us with a personal portrait and at the same time asks us to consider how we are unique and where we stand on common ground. No matter what human potential is uncovered by our future understanding and discoveries, that for now remain hidden in our individual genes, Genetic Self-Portrait reveals that while we may always want to think of ourselves as more than the sum of our parts, our real promise might be found in looking at the ninety-nine percent of ourselves we share with everyone else.

To produce many of the images in the exhibition Schneider worked with scientists and had access to image-making technology not normally available to artists. The Warehouse Gallery also employs new technology and the exhibition includes an interactive touch-screen monitor that allows viewers to access additional information about Schneider’s collaboration with scientists and the technology employed in creating the images.


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