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Surrogate


To become a surrogate. I offer my body to carry someone else’s baby while they use an app to monitor and control me for nine months.








Live Performance Trailer

For more info on the Surrogate live performance, please see this link.


As Roe v. Wade is overturned and gene editing opens entirely new reproductive futures, this project asks: How much control should we have over a birthing person’s body, and over a life before it’s born? What does kin mean when rapidly developing reproductive technologies—including IVF, egg and sperm donation, embryo freezing, DNA testing, and gene editing—shift our relationships? What happens when our industrialized drive for control collides with the process of birth?



Background

I offered 24/7 control over my life. What I’d eat, what I’d do, what thoughts I’d meditate on, and more. The parent would have complete control over the body in which their baby is growing.

Working with a close friend, we followed our mutual desire to perform this remote-control surrogacy through an intense process working with doctors, psychologists, fertility specialists, surrogates, doulas, midwives, and geneticists. It involved designing the Surrogate app, searching sperm donor databases, completing psychological evaluations and health exams, freezing embryos, talking with family, and ongoing correspondence with each other.

This deeply personal work offers my body as physical, emotional, and conceptual surrogate for understanding reproduction and technology’s role in it. The act of becoming a remote control surrogate serves as a metaphor for the control we may soon hold through processes of genetic engineering, as well as the immediate infringement on our bodily autonomy enacted by the legislation of reproductive rights worldwide.

This project is in progress, consisting of a series films, sculptures, installations, publications, and a live performance. I am currently seeking partnerships to premiere, exhibit, and develop works in this series. For more info, please contact studio.laurenleemccarthy@gmail.com.

Surrogate App

The Surrogate iOS app consists of a parent and surrogate version. For the surrogate, the app syncs with an Apple Watch to automatically track data including heart rate, sleep, physical activity and step count, as well as self reported data including mood, meals, water intake and weight. A calendar feature allows the parent to view the surrogate's calendar and schedule activities, tasks, and meals. A snapshot feature enables the parent to request a current snapshot, allowing them to view the surrogate's immediate environment. A message feature enables and documents parent and surrogate conversation over the course of the pregnancy. A notes feature allows both to privately record their thoughts throughout the process. The visual design of the app references a digital notebook, departing from the slick tech aesthetic of current life tracking apps. While the app and performance began with a provocation of extreme control and surveillance, through the development process, the app became a tool for understanding an evolving and nuanced relationship.

Credits

Collaborator, Dorothy R. Santos
Cinematography, Gabriel Noguez
Intended Parents Film, Director, David Leonard
Surrogate App, Design, Stefanie Tam
Prosthetics, Design and Fabrication, Paul Esposito
Placenta, Design and Fabrication, Eunice Choi
Studio Assistants: Lela Barclay de Tolly, Karina Lopez, Chelly Jin, Wylie Kasai

With support from

Creative Capital Award
United States Artist Fellowship
MacDowell Fellowship
Sundance Institute New Frontier Story Lab
Sundance Institute Art of Practice Fellowship
Pioneer Works Tech Residency
KW Institute for Contemporary Art