Master research interview: Victorine van Alphen

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“Having a baby without labour, sex, diapers, or career sacrifices? Feeling the presence of your own posthuman baby in Virtual Reality?” Are these experiences possible in the future, and if so, are they desirable? Victorine van Alphen made the future of human reproduction more tangible through her research project IVF-X. In this cyborg baby clinic, you are able to create your own digital life form, uniquely rendered for you based on the input you provide as an information donor. As a visitor of the IVFX-clinic, you fill in several questionnaires regarding your preferences, personality traits, the relationship to your parents, and so forth. Subsequently, based on that information, a digital creature is made. Participants go through several stages or ‘roles’: starting with being questioned on their motivation for reproduction, then becoming an information donor of personal info, to turning into an anticipator while waiting for the digital womb to do its work, to the grand finale: 'the encounter', the moment you become a parent and meet ‘your’ creature for the first time in a mix of VR and physical reality. "For me the encounter with the creature is most important, because I am fascinated with human beings, I couldnt imagine anything to be comparable to their physical presence, yet by making these virtual cyborgs that is exactly what I tried to achieve artistically: a sense of human presence in digital form."  

With the project, Victorine van Alphen explores the future of human reproduction and posthuman lifeforms. Her research started with the questions: what makes human presence so special? And are there ways we could digitize this? During the tests, we noticed how participants relate to others, but also to the idea of reproducing. “Some found the creature adorable and immediately felt connected, while others were more cerebral, trying to analyse the process. Interestingly the four stages of the process are experienced very differently” says Victorine. “It is a very personal process. The whole conversation around having children is intimate as well as ethical; do you want to reproduce, and if so, with who, and what are your motivations to do so? Were some questions are morally charged most are subjective, and make us experience our deeper preferences, that natural birth does not allow us to control. For example: what sex - or mixture of sexes - would you prefer? And what skin colour? Victorine: “You can pick from a ‘humane’ skin color, or something ‘post-human’, like space grey, alien green or millennial pink.” But like actual pregnancy and parenthood, Victorine didn’t have full control over its outcome, and neither does her audience. She deliberately chose software and hardware that you can use procedurally, meaning she could enter conditions, but couldn’t fully control the results. Victorine: “You take a position between God and Darwin. Not knowing the exact results beforehand was exciting and essential to the proces.” 

After testing the experience people talked for hours with us Victorine and Lukas, the production manager. “When we spoke about presence, we found a way to avoid words like aura or energy, comparing the presence of the cyborgs to other things: for example, does it feel like standing next to a shoe, or like a fish, or dog, an iPhone, or an alien?” Through such questions we found that participants surprisingly often experienced the digital creature as a living thing or being'. “The uncanny thing is, the creature does have a presence that people sense. But what is this feeling based on? What kind of presence? Presence is something that is very hard to define. At the same time we as humans are very sensitive to (human) presence and in times of Corona that became even more obvious”. End of august, the Corona-proof experience can be seen in the very heart of Amsterdam, in the historic building of VondelCS. "I am excited to see this futuristic installation in the renaissance room since – to me – (sexual) reproduction links us deeply to our bodily past, our present desires and our high-tech future"

Tickets can be found from the 1st of July onwards on or through