The Two Strands

Juliana Gómez Quijano

2019 - Ongoing

There is a special beauty in the unknown, certain topics and themes whose surfaces are enveloped by layer upon layer that must be penetrated. Scientists too, as T. Robert Oppenheimer pointed out, always live on the edge of mystery, on the frontier of the unknown. Science manifests itself to me as a catalyst to create. It sparks an interest to investigate and reflect from a place of scientific knowledge and create bridges to my personal experiences. By transforming this abstract knowledge into a first person account, making it mine, unraveling the mysteries from these personal events through this medium, I create images that facilitate connections with others.

A few years ago my parents told my sister Manuela and me, about the moment in which they observed in a black and white ultrasound, two embryos in our mother's uterus, it was 1985, in Medellín Colombia. They left with the ultrasound in their hands, speaking more excited than usual, imagining what it would be like to have two “equal” daughters. We have the same voice, no one, even our parents, is able to recognize it when we call them on the phone. We had a traffic accident when we were seven years old that injured each of us differently. The pain marked the differences in our bodies. We have been close since we were a handful of cells and our connection has transcended in time, now her children sometimes call me “Mom” and recently, a memory of a fragment of the body of my ex-partner crossed my mind, a few minutes later Manuela called me to tell me that she had met him on the street. Scientists have not come up with clear hypotheses about the causes why the fertilized egg divides into two exactly zygotes, from which two beings with the same DNA chain and information are born. Something of inexplicable chance is still kept in that miniscule moment and this is precisely the trigger for my search.

Las Dos Hebras (The Two Strands) is an image research project in which I review the history of the study of genetics, a series of stories told mostly by men and rescue characters such as Rosalind Franklin, a British chemist and crystallographer, who was the first person to look closely and capture the image of an enigmatic molecule capable of containing hereditary information. I also embrace the symbol and the strength of the ovules, (at first several thinkers and scientists attributed all the hereditary responsibility to the sperm, the womb of women was only a container), among other triggers and words that resonate with my sensibility and point of view as a woman.

The body of the work gathers archival photographs of Rosalind Franklin, diagnostic images of my genes and my twin, and microscopic photographs that I took in science labs thanks to the collaboration with scientists such as Catalina López, Executive Director of the Canadian Network of COVID19 Genomics, Isabel Trujillo, Director of the Genetics Laboratory of the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana and researchers from different universities in Medellín. In addition to portraits of homozygous twins, with whom I have also conducted a series of interviews to deepen in their metaphysical connections. Although this topic is beyond the scientific rigor with which I have approached the research, it is something that is part of the cultural imaginary and of our condition as human beings, which can enrich the symbolism of the project.

With the support of the PHmuseum 2021 Women Photographers Grant, I project collaborations with other laboratories such as the one at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, where they conduct research on the C. elegans worm and the zebrafish, two of the most studied organisms in research on the human genome. Also, I would continue photographing identical twins from different regions of Colombia, including rural areas, coastal territories and other main cities such as Bogotá and Cali, in which I have already contacted sibling pairs. At the same time, I also want to work in a more autobiographical dimension, make portraits of my sister and investigate the differences that are part of that deep and vulnerable side that is formed with life itself.

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  • These are my comet cells, really. I have always sensed that in addition to the earthly side we are inhabited by a cosmic side and these images prove it.

    I am very grateful to three women who collaborated with our project and shared with us their knowledge in mutagenesis, to be able to have these images.

    *Mutagenesis studies the processes that alter genetic information.

    They took a sample of my blood, mixed it with a component to separate the lymphocytes that contain my genetic material and generated an oxidative damage in the nucleus of my cells with hydrogen peroxide.

    The comet cells are the altered ones, the circular ones are the ones in their healthy state.

  • Rodrigo and Juan are dancers, they were the first twins I photographed, during our meeting they danced and told me about their dreams of dancing together on stages around the world.

  • At the moment of fertilization, the egg releases chemical signals that attract the ideal spermatozoid, the most compatible, to its center. Over the next two weeks, by some inexplicable chance, it’s possible that the fertilized egg will divide into two exactly equal zygotes, and it’s at that moment that the gestation of monozygotic twins will begin, two beings with the same DNA chain and genetic information.

  • My mother took this picture.

  • Close since we were a handful of cells.

  • When we were children, my sister and I played this gesture with our hands, imagining that the lines of our fingers together formed a river.

  • Blood cells from my sister Manuela surrounded by macrophages.

  • An encyclopedia of phenotypes.

  • Cielo and Angela are two women leaders in Moravia, a neighborhood in the suburbs of Medellín. They have accompanied me in the project from the beginning, I continue photographing them, now we are focusing on a story in which Angela had an accident in which she burned part of her skin and Cielo said that she sensed it and went to look for her without Angela calling her.

  • Come, ancient and identical night,

    (...) night with quick spangles

    come, vaguely,

    come, lightly,

    come, and caress us,

    come, and caress us,

    kiss us silently on the forehead,

    so lightly on the forehead that we do not know that we are kissed.

    Fernando Pessoa

  • The beauty of repetition

  • The flowers he loved.

    Gregor Mendel, is another of the characters that stood out in the history of the study of genetics. Perhaps because he doubted what he was doing, because he was alone in his research and because his discoveries were not recognized during his lifetime. I love the delicacy and obsession with which he weeded and sowed twenty-eight thousand plants, forty thousand flowers and almost four thousand four hundred thousand seeds.

  • Holding the symbols.

  • Under the silver cloaks are Jose and Juan. Two twin brothers actors. Now married and divorced, they live together with a dog in the center of Medellín. A halo of mystery has always surrounded the twins and this condition accompanies the atomospheres of the images of this project.

  • Photograph 51 was taken in a Cambridge laboratory in 1952, by Rosalin Franklin. She preferred to work in other codes, those of nature, crystals and invisible structures. Rosalin adjusted the temperature of her lab by releasing hydrogen bubbles, as the humidity rose the DNA fibers relaxed and she was able to capture the image through X-ray refraction.

  • Portals. Know yourself and on that path to the cosmos, to the Universe.

  • We are not alone.

  • Looking inside.

  • "If Avery had put the fibrous substance on his tongue, he would have noticed the faint sour taste of acid followed by the sweetness of sugar and another metallic, saline taste-the taste of the primordial sea"-as one writer described it."

    (Oswald Avery discovered the material substance of the gene, the tissue from which genes are made).

    Quote from the book The Gene, a personal history.

  • More than half of the stars in the Universe are born in binary systems. Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a team of researchers has obtained the first images of a twin star birth. The two baby stars were found in the [BHB2007] 11 system - the youngest member of a small star cluster located in the dark Barnard 59 nebula, which is part of the interstellar dust cloud called the Pipe Nebula.