With Cellout.me, artist Jeroen van Loon is offering his complete DNA sequence for sale.
The artwork has been on sale for a single year, until 27-09-2016. Bids could be placed through this website. After a year, the artwork, and with it the artist’s DNA, will be officially sold. On 27-09-2016 at 24:00h the Verbeke Foundation had the highest bid and is now the new owner of Cellout.me and van loon’s DNA data.
Van Loon’s DNA sequence contains 380 GB of data, which consists of the three billion ACTGs that make up his source code. The DNA sequence has been determined with a 30-fold coverage depth, making it ‘laboratory’ quality. The data is stored on a server in a server rack which shows the DNA sequence and the website www.cellout.me. The public can see both the current bid and the actual data simultaneously. The buyer of Cellout.me will own an extremely personal ‘self portrait’ and will become co-owner of the artist’s DNA.
By turning DNA data into a commodity, Cellout.me tries to show some of the future ethical, financial and artistic questions and consequences that arise with DNA sequencing technology, which is getting cheaper, easier and more accessible each day. Biology is converted into binary data – data that is stored in data centers. Data that can be copied, manipulated, shared, sold, bought and so on.
If, as Neelie Kroes, former European Commissioner for Digital Agenda has stated, data is the new gold, the first question that arises is: what is the value of DNA data? Does it have different values for different people? What is the value of Cellout.me for an art collector, a big data company or an average person? Does DNA data have an intrinsic value, and if so, to whom and why?
The actual transaction poses questions concerning ownership and copyright: does DNA data have an (single) owner? What happens when DNA data is co-owned and how does this influence the spatial privacy of the biological owner and/or his family members?