According to the gospel of the so-called maker movement — the cottage industry of 3-D printing enthusiasts and users — the spread of such printing and design technology is a revolutionary development, one that promises to return ownership to workers of the means of production to laborers. With a printer in every home, every worker becomes a factory owner. And like any good revolution, it’s already running into trouble with the law. This week, a Japanese artist was arrested for making and distributing 3-D printed designs of her vagina.
Indeed, she isn’t the first to land in hot water with the authorities for 3-D printing designs. Last year, Cody Wilson, the self-described anarchist behind the world’s first 3-D printed gun, was admonished by the U.S. State Department for attempting to disseminate the design for his 3-D printed gun online. The Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance, it turns out, thought Wilson may have been violating of the Arms Export Control Act. By posting blueprints online, the office argued, Wilson may have been engaging in an act of export.
Now, the Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi, who works under the pseudonym Rokudenashiko, which roughly translates as "good-for-nothing-girl," finds herself squarely in the crosshairs of the Japanese legal system for her subversive work behind the 3-D printer. Rokudenashiko’s work centers on depictions of female genitalia, a deeply taboo subject in Japan, which despite its huge pornography industry takes a prudish approach to the sexual organs. By disseminating the 3-D blueprint of her vulva, Rokudenashiko allegedly violates a century-old statute that forbids the sale of obscene content, the legal statute that is at the heart of Japan’s censorship regime and has resulted in the widespread blurring of, for example, sexual organs in Japanese pornography.
Rokudenashiko denies that she was paid for the work, but the police say otherwise. According to reports in the Japanese media quoting unnamed police sources, she received 1 million yen — or about $10,000 dollars — for the data.
But one doesn’t really get the impression Rokudenashiko is in it for the money. Rokudenashiko argues that the vagina has become taboo in a way that the penis has not in Japanese society. And she probably has a point. The city of Kawasaki has an annual penis festival during which giant phalluses are paraded through the streets.
In the video below, Rokudenashiko explains her artistic process and how as an artist she came to respond to vagina taboos. She even makes a mold of her vagina on-camera. (And it’s reasonably safe for the office.)
Rokudenashiko elaborates on those themes, explaining that the impulse to create art using her vagina was in part inspired by the fact that the lack of images depicting the female sexual organ had made her unsure about how one ought to look. (It, too, is reasonably safe for the office, unless your boss frowns upon the word “pussy” appearing repeatedly in subtitles.)
Still, the charges against Rokudenashiko seem overblown since isn’t making pornography and certainly isn’t constructing a literal weapon. Her artistic practice has so far included the construction of a kayak made in the likeness of her own vagina, which she built with the help of crowdfunding and paddled across a Tokyo lake. She’s also made action figures outfitted with vaginas, t-shirts emblazoned with futuristic vagina prints, and hilarious posters of anthropomorphic vaginas.
It’s a wonderful irony that the two most controversial uses of 3-D printing technology involve the manufacture of guns and vaginas. There’s probably an art-theoretical comment to be made on their inverse qualities as symbols of destruction and creation, but I’ll leave that to greater minds. For now, on the question of what is more dangerous — a 3-D printed gun or vagina? — I’ll simply say that the literal answer is obvious and the symbolic one more complicated. The more interesting question is probably the following: Which would you prefer to see set free by the 3-D printer?