Ocular Revision

Ocular Revision

Ocular Revision, created in 2010, is Paul Vanouse’s methodology of displaying and analyzing DNA. Vanouse was very interested by DNA from an early age, inspired by the power that the building block and blueprints of life holds. He was further inspired by what the post-biological age (the 20th century and beyond) has remodeled DNA to be, a quantifiable code that is comparable to the code that makes up our computer science. DNA is typically mapped in a rectangular chamber filled with a porus, gelatin glazed with an electrical field. The DNA is injected into this gelatin and when current moves through it it pulls the DNA across at a rate that corresponds with its mass. Vanouse wanted to remodel the way we view DNA back to the circular-lensed, eye-focalized manner in which we view other scientific systems such as telescopes for space and microscopes for the minute. So he created a circular rig with a similar gelatin for visualization of DNA bands in a round manner. This electrophoresis (a DNA viewing mechanism) is polarized from the inside to the outside of the rig. So when the pulse moves through the gelatin it pulls the DNA from the periphery of the circle to the center, creating images on the screens or projections that do not resemble the “bar chart” we are used to seeing with DNA analysis. Rather the images bloom across the screen, emerging like a signal or an impulse. Vanouse has gone as far to describe the visualizations as flowerings, painting a lovely picture for a visual reader. Paul Vanouse has given us a way to look at the fundamental unit of life in a way that is as organic. He describes his purposes as,

“Ocular Revision attempts to nudge DNA imaging back toward the realm of biology.  The goal (at least at present) is to force DNA to be read as substance rather than mere code and thus hopefully break a certain deadlock in Genetics caused by its overly simplistic operationalization”. Vanouse, Paul, Ocular Revision,  2010.

Vanouse’s work makes the way we view DNA into an statement, into an artwork. His belief that we are overly simplifying the most vital aspect of life itself is not far off. People are more inclined to misunderstand the nature of DNA when it is presented so straight-forwardly. He wishes to exhibit genetic material as epic, beautiful, and organic. As art, much more symbolic and fluid than modern man's quantification of genetics. His initial construction takes snippets of E.Coli DNA, processes them selectively which then allows them to be fused into images. His fledging work merged these snippets to be viewed in the imagery of the hemispheric maps.

A closeup of Vanouse’s circular electrophoresis, image courtesy of  the International Digital Art Exhibition

A closeup of Vanouse’s circular electrophoresis, image courtesy of the International Digital Art Exhibition

Paul Vanouse exhibits Ocular Revision as twin projections of his circular twist on the electrophoresis in a time-lapse form. We get to view the whole process in which the DNA emerges in a maplike configuration.

“The abstraction and exploitation that are historically registered in world maps are challenged in this process, one that is revealed to the viewer as constructed rather “ truth”...  The project is sharply, if subtly, critical because it inverts the goals of worldwide genomic mapping and its application to racial typing”. The Vida Art and Artificial Life International Awards, November 27, 2012

Vanouse decided on the map-styled visualizations of DNA to act as a much deeper metaphor. Spurned by the phrase, which Vanouse believes to be a pun, “genetic mapping” this metaphor can be broken down in two ways. Vanouse breaks down the phrase in that he is mapping genetically, not by mapping DNA but by creating maps out of DNA. The simpler of the two ways to break down the metaphor, is that the DNA is representative of the Earth itself. That in displaying our genetic material as the globe we are creating a visual for life being global. This notion would nod to the fact that everything living on the face of the planet shares what creates the map. The second being that the utilization of the map embodies that life is bigger than how we map it. That how society has constructed the world is skewed, pulled by political and economic exploitation. Similarly to how Vanouse believes by quantifying genetics we are simplifying something much more complex, in structuring the way we view globe in the way that we do does the exact same thing. Thus abstracting the worth of life as a whole.


Vanouse’s Ocular Revision is heavily comparable to his work, Latent Figure Protocol. Latent Figure Protocol was Vanouse’s project that took place between 2006-2009 (during his work on Ocular Revision) in which Vanuse used DNA to create representational imagery. Using methodology similar to that of his Ocular Revision work he creates imagery using snippets of DNA and films the process. When exhibiting this piece he re-creates the images live so that viewers can witness the images emerge in real-time, the whole performance taking an hour. The whole piece is as much a commentary as Ocular Revision, as Paul Vanouse produced images that correlate with the particular DNA used to create the image. The images and DNA used are an analysis of the ethicality that comes with the changes of the status of organic life and the ownership of this life. For example, his first experiment (which can be viewed below) created a copyright symbol out of the DNA of a plasmid known as “pET-11a”, which is an industrially-produced organism. Both the exhibition and the structure of the projects are incredibly similar and Vanouse’s mindset during the timeframe is extremely apparent. With Latent Figure Protocol his questioning of the industrialism of the building blocks of life comes forward. And with Ocular Revision one can feel Vanouse juggle the value of how we view and therefore understand the same building blocks.

Image courtesy of the artist  

Image courtesy of the artist  

Vanouse’s Ocular Revision is also akin to the DNA11 project. DNA11 is a Canadian company that makes split screen DNA portraits of up to four different people's DNA on a canvas. Promoted as a symbol of unity for a plethora of relationships, the portraits are projected in the traditional horizontal, bar code manner that Vanouse attempts to steer clear of. You can view an example of one below. And it is also not a free service, you pay for your portrait. As noted in Latent Figure Protocol, Vanouse has commented on the commercialistic route that DNA has taken recently. One can’t be all to sure how Vanouse would feel about  DNA11, but all in all Occular Revision and the DNA portraits attempt to do similar thing… promote DNA in common conversation. To show that DNA is something we all share and because of this can be symbolically shown in multiple lights. That DNA can be more than what we simply quantify it to be. 

Image courtesy of DNA11

Image courtesy of DNA11

Vanouse’s work with DNA is both fascinating and eye-opening, as it fights against human nature’s intentionality of simplification to understand. Vanouse makes a point to deliberately state that simplification is a devolution of understanding a concept, that one must view the complexities to gain all that there is to be taken away from a concept.

Watch Vanouse describe Ocular Revision below

And check out DNA11 here

Ocular Revision was exhibited in the following locations:

> 9/2/10    Cyberarts opening, ARS Electronica Festival, Linz, Austria

> 2/18/11 Surveyor, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.

> 9/24/11 Opening, solo exhibition, Kapelica Gallery, Ljubljana, Slovenia.

> 10/24/11  Ocular Revision wins second Prize at VIDA 13.2, the International Competitionon Art and Artificial Life , Madrid

> 2/15-19/12 ARCO, VIDA booth, Madrid, Spain.

> Sept 19-28, 2013   Transito Festival, Mexico City, Mexico.

> Nov 14-23, 2014  Digital Taipai Festival, Taipai, Taiwan.

> Paul Vanouse also performs Ocular Revision at his various lectures at multiple institutions and Universities across the globe

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