International Journal of Art & Design Education

DNA as a Work of Art: Processes of Semiosis between Contemporary Art and Biology (pages 83–96)

Volume 32.1   2013



When A Genomic Portrait – Sir John Sulston by Mark Quinn appeared in the London National Portrait Gallery's exhibition in 2001/2, the ensuing public controversy over its portrayal raised a number of questions about the representation of a publicly known figure. Because the portrait was the Gallery's first contemporary commission using specialised, scientific procedures in its creation, a number of issues arose surrounding its authenticity. How questions of authenticity are answered depends upon how the viewer reads aspects of scientific coding as it functions within the artistic domain. This is a form of visual literacy that depends on the viewer's ability to lift the veil that operates between coding systems and the context of their use. Literacy in this case is built upon the relationship between visual interpretation and ascribed systems of meaning within the context of their recontextualisations. By playing with the intersections between artistic and scientific discourses, the authors investigate how the representation of identity functions as a polysemy across different semiotic domains. Using visual semiotics to examine the intersections between sign systems across these domains, some of the communication aspects of how new modes of art function in present-day communities are provoked. By illustrating the complexity of this process as a part of transforming expert knowing into pedagogical practice, support is given for improving teacher education in the arts and cultural domain.