What would happen if we could have babies without the involvement of a female body? On June 28 during the workshop we hosted at Border Sessions Festival, twenty-two people with different backgrounds - ranging from art and design to geology, pediatrics and prenatal instrument engineering - explored the possible answers to this question through an inspiring societal prototyping session.

Participants prototyping during the workshop.

The day started with a lecture by NNN designer Hendrik-Jan Grievink who introduced our ongoing research project Ectogenesis, Artificial Womb, Human Egg? and briefly explained the Next Nature philosophy, including the Pyramid of Technology. He concluded with a thought-provoking question: will newer generations of assisted reproductive technologies, such as artificial wombs, ever become part of human nature?

After a first round of intense discussion, biologist Nana McLean and designer Charlotte Marabito from Germany presented their project Youterus, opening up the debate on the artificial womb social context. All participants tried their Youterus wearable womb physical prototype, which instantly led to new observations and insights. This is exactly why we undertook this project: to bring an element of embodiment to a subject that is all about disembodiment.

Participants with the ‘Youterus’ model.

In the afternoon, the participants divided into groups to imagine different scenarios in which the artificial womb could evolve in the future. Rather than envisioning futuristic design objects, the outcomes focused more on the broader context of reproduction, sexuality and relations. This is also the direction we want to go with this project, we need societal prototypes. Below we highlight two particularly successful scenarios:

SCENARIO 1 - Birth Day. The artificial womb can hypothetically allow people to pick the date of birth of their child. This will result in a different kind of rituals and celebrations around birth, some ideas: family members will be invited or the date itself can be scheduled so that everyone in the family can share the same birthday day. Or a national Labour Day, that co-aligns with the other labour day on May 1st. Your birth day will become a very special day in which you actually remember and reflect on the moment you entered this world.

SCENARIO 2 - Poly Parenting. In the future, the nuclear family will be over and families will consist of 1-100 members. Together with the other co-parents, you will negotiate your level of commitment as parent. The title of parent will cease to exist. Instead, a different system of naming will be introduced to define the level of parental commitment: corent (10%), hurent (31%), mirent (52%), etc.

Rapid prototyping helped us to materialize ideas.

PolyParenting: the word ‘parent’ is disseminated into 100 variations based on involvement.

The level of discussion throughout the day was profound, to say the least. As NNN we have gained valuable insights and design scenarios regarding the artificial womb from different perspectives. Everybody walked out of the door with enough food for thought for quite a while.

Thanks to Border Sessions and all participants for taking part in our workshop. We look forward to more of these sessions. Would you like to host one?

This report is part of the Artificial Womb research project by NNN. The goal of this project is to develop thought-provoking scenarios that facilitate a much-needed discussion about the way technology radically alters our attitude towards reproduction, gender, relationships and love in the 21st century. We highly value your feedback or input, contributions can be sent to womb@nextnature.net.

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