Couples design their own “virtual babies” at Dutch art exhibit

Couples design their own
Jennifer van Exel and her partner Frouke Engel use a tablet to select the characteristics of their cyborg baby as part of the "IVF-X: Become a digital parent now!" art installation by Dutch visual artist Victorine van Alphen in VondelCS Cultural Centre, Amsterdam, Netherlands, August 30, 2020. Picture taken August 30, 2020. REUTERS/Esther Verkaik

September 2, 2020

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Couples who want children of their own got a brief taste of parenthood by creating their own “digital babies” during a virtual reality art exhibit in the Netherlands.

Visitors selected the baby’s character traits, physical appearance and other features by answering questions on a computer tablet.

They sat in sofas in a futuristic room with soft lighting and flowing drapes, which was all part of an installation called “IVFX: posthuman parenting in hybrid reality,” created by Dutch visual artist Victorine van Alphen.

“I had lots of deep, personal conversations that inspired me,” Van Alphen said, including with people who wanted to have children but couldn’t, someone who had lost a child and neighbours considering artificial insemination.

“There were lots of beautiful, inspiring conversations, anecdotes and background discussions that formed this strange, futuristic project,” she said. “I kind of gave myself the ‘mission impossible’ to create a presence in virtual reality.”

Among the question was whether you would allow your artificial creation to reproduce.

“It’s definitely smart,” said Jennifer van Exel, discussing the options with her partner Frouke Engel.

Their choices were then used to form a computer generated infant – a pulsating pink creature in an incubator, which squealed and had a red glowing heartbeat.

“I don’t know if you can say it has a head. I am not sure other people will be able to relate to it,” said van Exel, peering at the new life form through 3D goggles while singing a lullaby.

“We’re the parents, so obviously we created it and you want to be compassionate and loving, but it’s nothing human so it’s really hard to actually relate to it.”

(Reporting by Esther Verkaik; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)