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UB bio-artist Paul Vanouse wins Award of Distinction at prestigious Prix Ars Electronica

His winning work, ‘The America Project,’ uses DNA from the saliva of hundreds of people to create iconic images such as crowns and fighter jets

Release Date: June 14, 2017

An image of the United States flag created using DNA in human saliva. 

An image of a crown created from DNA in human saliva. 

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Paul Vanouse, University at Buffalo professor of art and director of Coalesce: Center for Biological Art, received the Award of Distinction in the Hybrid Art category of the 2017 Prix Ars Electronica, the premiere cyberarts festival and competition in the world.

His work, “The America Project,” was one of two projects to receive the award, taking home one of the three top prizes from over 1,060 other entries submitted from 106 countries. Vanouse will receive his award at the Ars Electronica Gala on Sept. 8 in Linz, Austria.

“The Ars Electronica festival is an important summit for emerging practices in the arts,” says Vanouse. “For bio-art in particular, it affords the platform to engage highly topical debates on the aesthetic, ethical and even ontological dimensions of the emerging field. And, of course, I feel highly honored to receive the award.”

The America Project is a bio-art installation that revolves around the idea of a shared identity that was once a part of the utopia of America. The work was described by the Ars Electronica jury as producing “the very icon of the melting pot, the U.S. flag, as the result of a live scientific experiment.”

Visitors are asked to rinse their mouths with a saline solution and then spit into a spittoon that comingles the DNA of hundreds of people. The DNA is processed in a custom DNA amplification procedure that Vanouse and his colleague at Coalesce, Solon Morse, use to develop iconic images of power such as crowns, fighter jets and flags that are visualized as live video projections.

'The America Project,' created by UB art professor Paul Vanouse, won the Award of Distinction in the Hybrid Art category of the 2017 Prix Ars Electronica, the premiere cyberarts festival and competition in the world.

Vanouse, who is also the program head of Emerging Practices in the UB Department of Art, has worked in emerging media forms since 1990. His electronic cinema, biological experiments and interactive installations have been exhibited in over 20 countries and across the U.S. in venues that range from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery to the Louvre Museum.

For the past decade, Vanouse has been concerned with forcing the arcane codes of scientific communication into a broader cultural language. His recent projects have used molecular biology techniques to challenge “genome-hype” and confront issues surrounding DNA fingerprinting.

His award-winning work has been discussed in journals and media outlets that include Art Journal, Art News, New Scientist and The New York Times. His art has been funded by numerous organizations that include the National Science Foundation, Creative Capital Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Renew Media Fellowship, New York Foundation for the Arts and New York State Council on the Arts.

As director of the Coalesce Center for Biological Art, housed within the UB Community of Excellence in Genome, Environment and Microbiome (GEM), Vanouse helps attract artists from around the globe to participate in biological art residences through which they can form mentorships with UB faculty in the life sciences, gain access to laboratory equipment, and receive the creative space and technical support to study genomic and microbiomic concepts.

Coalesce artists-in-residence Byron Rich and Mary ‘Maggic’ Tsang also received an honorable mention in the Hybrid Art category of the 2017 Prix Ars Electronica for their project “Open Source Estrogen,” which aims to develop a system of protocols for the emancipation of the estrogen biomolecule through low-cost, do-it-yourself tools for collecting environmental estrogens.

“We are thrilled with the success and international recognition of Coalesce, of Paul Vanouse and Solon Morse, and of our Coalesce artists-in-residence,” says Jennifer Surtees, GEM co-director and associate professor in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.

“GEM seeks to engage scientists and non-scientists alike to explore the science of the genome and the microbiome, but also to engage in broader ethical and cultural discussions. These outstanding creative endeavors embody and illustrate the power of art to stimulate these discussions.”

Vanouse holds a master of fine arts degree from Carnegie Mellon University and a bachelor of fine arts degree from UB.

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