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John Doe is a multiple-use placeholder name used when the true name of a person is

unknown or is being intentionally concealed. In the context of law enforcement in the United

States, it is often used to refer to a corpse whose identity is unknown or unconfirmed. This

name is also often used to refer to a hypothetical “everyman”.


The series “J. Doe, an abstract identity” dives on the concept of identity in itself, reflecting upon what is it that really makes us be who we are. Working with the ultimate idea of the collective and anonymous subject, I pose the question of the self-construction of the SELF, in present times of groundbreaking technology and genetic engineering advances, and the never more up to date concept of hyper-reality, intertwined with a surrealist gaze. Weighing the roles of the psyche and the physical in the emerging personality awareness and the desire of modifying oneself, is it possible to make an abstraction of the identity, reckoning the social and the media that condition and influence the construction of the self? Which types of changes a person can undergo, without losing his identity, or ceasing to exist?


While developing part of the series, I took digital photos through an optical microscope of different human body samples which I bought through the Internet. These processes and working methods raise the question on the ownership of identity, reflecting on the fact of being able to buy human remains legally over the Internet, wondering who the owner of the tissues was. This idea of the anonymous is taken to the extreme in the reconstruction of the character of J. Doe, a collective presence, who is all of us and none of us at the same time. 

Having compiled this intellectual and visual information, I make an allegory with the newest discoveries regarding genetic engineering, specifically with the “CRISPR” tool, which allows to “cut and paste” different genes’ segments. I reshape and combine the human body samples digitally, playing the part of the scientist. I later on use AI, and a generative algorithm to further modify the pieces, making a statement on the increasing use of AI in almost every aspect of life. The operations result in the construction of new imaginaries of the body, creating unthinkable and unexpected combinations that pose transcendental reflections. What is the fine line between fixing a physical issue in order to heal someone and enhancing a person’s physical abilities giving them a competitive advantage over others? If the genetic lottery could be rigged, would this ensure equality, or would it only standardize identities? Are we fully prepared, and do we have all the knowledge necessary to play Amateur Gods? At some points the monstrosity of the danger of playing with genetic engineering and self-manipulation looms large.


I make use of public domain scientific, philosophical, literary and even cinematographic references when creating narratives of the identity, texts that make us question the patterns of construction of the individual, society’s explanation of the self and the subject of the alteration and reinvention of the identity. Adding on a self-referential aspect to the work, I also analyzed my own blood through the microscope, and had my genome mapped.


I seek to trigger reflections on the audience, by drawing a parallelism between the possibilities of human design given by genetic engineering and the opportunity of consciously building ourselves a new SELF as an avatar inside the Metaverse, immersed in hyper-reality. I establish dialogues between computer programming and genetic identity construction, laying their smallest building units side by side: 0’s and 1’s and DNA´s base sequencing: ACGT. 

Thirty years after the iconic Posthuman exhibition curated by Jeffrey Ditch, and considering the representation of bodies metamorphoses being the theme of the last Venice Biennale, I intertwine genetics and technology with conceptual thinking and philosophical reflections. With an almost surrealistic approach, I delve into certain issues that have been hovering in society’s consciousness for the past decades. Partnering with audio-visual producers, sound designers and genetics specialists, I explore genome maps, technological language such as binary code, screens and algorithms, identity documents and blockchain, virtuality and hyper-reality, “J. Doe, an abstract identity” brings together a series of the unknown, envisioning possible futures and awakening the spectator’s unease.

ID - Isabel Englebert.png
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