You’re standing under a clear sky. A light breeze gently combs the lush, flowery field around you. An unnaturally large bird sits on a rock in the distance. You hear a couple at odds with each other, arguing about whether to have a baby. That's when you look down and Oh, you’re pregnant.
Preterna was conceived by Jeremy Bailey and Kristen D. Schaffer, who were solicited by Toronto-based gallery Trinity Square Video to create a piece in virtual reality. The couple has been married for years and has been talking about having kids for some time. “I don’t want to get pregnant and he does, so we did this,” Schaffer said in an interview with The Creators Project.
Using the Leap Motion sensors mounted onto headsets, users are able to use their hands in virtual reality to touch their pregnant bodies. Using photogrammetry, Schaffer’s own figure was 3D-scanned for the piece, and Bailey modified the mesh to add a bun in the oven.
“She’s seeing me pregnant,” Schaffer said while pointing at someone trying Preterna, “but the thing is I’m not actually pregnant… Jeremy and I have been playing with the idea of empathy a lot... [and] it feels reductionist to think that you can simulate empathy.” According to Schaffer, Preterna doesn’t aspire to virtual reality's empathy machine ideal.
“My husband is it the ultimate satirist, while I’m coming at things from a more educative standpoint,” says Schaffer. She hopes that the piece will inspire educators and kids to think about what else virtual reality can be, aside from first-person games and 360 documentaries. Bailey intends to eventually put up a website and offer people a kit where they can experience an anthology of different experiences built by him and his wife during their VR pregnancy incubation—and might even “result in an AI baby.” Baby X, they're coming for you.
Preterna previewed at the WEIRD REALITY VR Salon at the Ace Hotel in Pittsburgh, during the VIA FESTIVAL 2016. It previews again on November 19 at Sub Chroma 2016 in Chicago, and premieres at Trinity Square Video in Fall 2017. Follow the piece on Jeremy Bailey’s website and Twitter.