In ‘The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction’, a 1986 essay by Ursula K. Le Guin, the theory that the spear was the first human tool is disputed. Le Guin argues that, instead of a tool of war, the first human tool must have been a vessel – a sling, gourd or shell. An ancient equivalent of the tote bag. This reframing of history, increasingly supported by anthropologists and historians alike, does important work in questioning the assumption that early human societies progressed through acts of domination, hunting and hero worship. Instead, it is proposed, ancient remains show evidence of egalitarian, collaborative living in harmony with other cultures and the natural world – gathering, sharing, creating, collecting and exploring together.
One of the ways we can see these concepts being translated into the current day is through GynePunk, with its 3D printed speculum housed in the V&A’s permanent collection. The speculum is part of a kit of gynaecological tools, which were prototyped by the TransHackFeminist collective to imagine a world where women have control over their reproductive health. The Gynepunk kit comprises digital material (the designs fed into 3D printers to be fabricated) and physical material (the three-dimensional objects built in this process). It counters the historical injustices of the speculum and its links to patriarchy, institutionalised racism and the unethical use of enslaved peoples as research subjects by asking what reproductive health equipment might look like if community histories were also taken into account. What if the knowledge of female health practitioners, midwives, mutual aid groups and other networks of marginalised peoples passed down the generations were not ignored? What kind of world would underserved communities – from migrants and LGBTQ+ groups to sex workers and those without affordable healthcare – encounter when requesting equitable medical care? By attempting to provide access specifically for these communities, GynePunk explores what it means to collectively ‘carry’ the tools of care.
With this in mind, let’s enter an alternate reality together. Imagine that you have been transported back in time to the early days of human civilisation. Imagine you’re going to a place you’ve never been to before, with three of the people whom you love the most in the world. The trip may last for a few months or longer. You will be walking barefoot across varied terrain, and you can only fill one carrier bag with your belongings for the journey.
What are the objects essential to your health, well-being and nourishment, as well as the care of those closest to you? Think about the kinds of objects – medicines, food, talismans, tools, digital materials, toiletries – without which you simply can’t survive. Think about the things without which your loved ones can’t survive. Keep in mind that you will not have access to your usual healthcare systems, so you will need to prepare accordingly. Keep in mind that you will need to carry these objects over a long distance.
We are now going to work together to fill your carrier bag, so it takes form in your life. There are three steps involved in the process. The activities of each step build on those of the step before it, and each step can also be undertaken on its own if you would prefer to take shorter trips.
1 – Map
On a piece of paper, create a quick ‘sketch’ of your bag in pen or pencil. Then add the most treasured of your items near the centre, or heart, of your bag. You can also do this using words, magazine clippings, or photos – or invite a trusted friend to sketch as you speak. This will provide you with a map of the objects that you carry in the archive of your life. Now, think about the one item that is the most essential to you. Other than yourself, who else in the world can access this object? And who cannot? What is the history of this object? What is missing from its history? This will provide you with a reminder of the things that we often forget to remember.
2 – Fold
Now that you have researched the histories and uses of your most essential object grab another piece of paper (something special) and use these instructions to create a heart origami, which will represent the object’s meaning in your life. If you wish to, you can also create a heart for each of the other important things you keep close in your carrier bag.
3 – Fabricate
In this step, you will make your own vessel with a 3D printer to carry the hearts from step two. First, acquire the digital materials you need by setting up an account on Thingiverse, a website that hosts free 3D modelling designs, and clicking ‘Download All Files’ for the Gyrobot Twisted Heart Vase. Now it is time to take your design into a makerspace and print it into a physical object. Makerspaces (also called other names, such as fab lab, design studio and hackspace) are friendly community workshops that offer the tools to make things, and mentors to show you how to use them. Get in touch with your local makerspace in London or elsewhere. By meeting this community and collaborating with them, you will be able to create a vessel using the materials, colours and style you need for your journey. When you are finished, upload your remix of the Gyrobot Twisted Heart Vase design to Thingiverse, to continue the circle of carrying with care.