Artist Michael Mapes tends to define himself in unusual terms. His CV reads like a series of jokes: “1979: decided not to attend Rhode Island School of Design. 1989-90: Contemplated in Boston. 2012: Still doesn’t text.” As an artist, Mapes depicts other people in similarly unconventional terms. His portraits, which he calls Specimens, are made from actual DNA and other detritus produced by the subjects.
“I’m attempting to deconstruct a human subject and recreate them,” Mapes tells Co.Design. “In a way, that provides a greater opportunity for study and contemplation.”
He begins a portrait by taking a few hundred photographs of a person in their environment, which Mapes says grants him a more complex understanding of their identity. Working closely with the subject, he collects pieces of debris they leave in their wake: eyelashes, perfume, handwriting samples, dirt from their garden, hair from their pets, and anything else that might turn up. He recreates a photographic portrait using what he finds, working in other details like vacation photos or the eye color of the subject’s spouse. “I also try to vary how it’s presented in the work,” says Mapes, “glass vials, test tubes, petri dishes, resin cubes, and thousands of insect pins.”
God may be in the details, the work suggests, but so are our identities.
Check out more of the work on his website.