Leanna Oen received her BA in Art History and English from the University of Denver and studied German at the University of Tübingen. She received the 2009 MacDonald Award for outstanding Art History Major and graduated with honors in English. She is currently pursuing her MA in Visual + Critical studies, working as an intern at SF Camerawork, a writing tutor, and a teaching assistant. Her thesis is entitled “Envisioning the Self: Coding DNA and the Double Helix.”
About Leanna Oen’s Thesis Project
Under the Microscope: Pop-Culture Visualizations of DNA
Can science be trusted to identify who we are? The ubiquity of pop-culture representations of DNA speaks to our fascination not only with science but also with ourselves. This essay makes the case that such images have resulted in a conflation of biological and subjective individuality. From the 1953 discovery of the double helix to the present day, DNA has been an integral part of our understanding of subjective individuality as natural and biological. The biological self is the body into which one is born, whereas subjective individuality is the collection of personal actions, preferences, habits, and personality traits. The examination of fictional and real court cases in which forensic evidence has played a pivotal role exposes a firm belief in the facts furnished by science. The use of genetics in ancestral research, specifically the Genographic Project and the television series Faces of America, reveals that biological and subjective uniqueness are fused and blended.