GynePunk, the cyborg witches of DIY gynecology
Published 30 June 2015 by Ewen Chardronnet
The Catalan collective GynePunk wants to decolonize the female body. To this end, it is developing first aid gynecological tools, for socially disadvantaged women, refugees, sex workers. But also for themselves.
Located in the hills west of Barcelona, the Calafou community where the GynePunk collective originated defines itself as a “postcapitalist ecoindustrial colony”. Their environment is nothing to dream about—the river is contaminated, the old hydroelectric power plant generates electric fields that affect their daily lives. Nonetheless, quite a few people pooled their money to purchase these 28,000 sq.m to create 27 apartments. Life in Calafou is a cooperative, with several common spaces, a woodworking studio, a foundry and a hackerspace occupied by the Pechblenda biolab.
Pechblenda is part of the international DIY open source biology network Hackteria. According to Paula Pin, whom we met in Nantes during her 0.camp residency at Ping and the Plateforme C fablab : “We decided to settle in Calafou in 2013, because we believed that we had to live together in a co-op in order to put our ideas into practice. Working on fluids in general was our primary objective, from analyzing river water to analyzing body fluids. Once we settled in Calafou, we initiated a spontaneous sexology group.” While the women were already working on themes related to male chauvinism, the “anarchofeminists and transhackfeminists” didn’t focus “enough” on the body.
“How can we make more organically shaped sex toys, that are more educational?” Paula continues. “We also wanted to pursue the ideas of Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens, who advocate degenitalizing sexuality with their ecosexual movement.” Their movement is also part of the post-pornography movement, which is very strong in Spain and promotes a different vision of sexuality and mainstream pornography, which currently focus exclusively on genital sexual relationships.
“We also gave workshops on ‘dildomancy’, demonstrating how to make natural lubricants and treat vaginal diseases from plants. Klau Kinky, who started documenting this work, then came up with the concept of GynePunk.”
Anarcha, Betsey, Lucy y otras chicas del montón
Klau Kinky was exploring the issue of decolonizing the female body. While researching sexology, she came across the names of 19th century American gynecologists J. Marion Sims and Alexander Skene. The first is said to have invented the speculum (note of the editor: one reader suggests that it was invented earlier by the french midwife Marie Boivin), and the latter gave his name to the Skene glands, which are analogous to the male prostate and associated with female ejaculation.
These fathers of modern gynecology practiced their gynecological research on plantation slaves, without anesthesia. From 1845 to 1849, Sims experimented on three slaves in Alabama—Anarcha, Betsy and Lucy—who were suffering from fistulas. Anarcha was operated on 30 times without anesthesia. It wasn’t after the success of these operations that he began to operate on white women, this time under anesthesia. These experiments, considered to be a step toward modern vaginal surgery, allowed Sims to design medical instruments, including the speculum.
So Klau decided to dedicate her project to “Anarcha, Betsey, Lucy y otras chicas del montón”, in reference to one of Pedro Almodóvar’s first films, Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (1980). She also rebaptized the Skene’s gland and Bartholin glands to Anarcha’s gland and Lucy and Betsey glands, in honor of the slaves who were victims of Sims’ experiments.
“Anarcha, Betsey, Lucy y otras chicas del montón” (2013):
Emergency gynecologist kit
But Klau and GynePunk didn’t stop there. For a workshop at Hangar in Barcelona, they developed a biolab emergency box. The aim was to assemble DIY biohacking tools to analyze body fluids : blood, urine, vaginal fluids. Aided by the Hackteria network, GynePunk developed three tools : a centrifuge, a microscope and an incubator. The centrifuge separates solids from liquids, and decants the contents for examination under the microscope. The microscope, a useful tool for cytology (the study of cell morphology) and histology (tissue morphology), is used to identify (by color) urinary and other genital fungal infections. Finally, the incubator grows the bacteria in a Petri dish, feeding them to reveal their presence.
GynePunk’s goal is to develop a tool kit for emergency gynecological medicine, something like risk-reduction kits for drug users. This kit can be helpful for immigrants without health coverage, for refugee camps, but also for sex workers, organized or not.
But the kit is also useful to the GynePunk members themselves. In Calafou there is a health group that seeks to bypass the public health system, in order to avoid doctor’s appointments without sufficient finances or the proper insurance. It’s also a militant stance for alternative medicine, ancestral knowledge, Chinese medicine, witchcraft and grandmother’s recipes… “We are cyborg witches!” says Paula. “We want to update ancestral knowledge with the independent use of technology.”
GynePunk also inspires the Hackteria network with its will to democratize and “liberate” the instruments and protocols used in obstetrics and gynecology to allow low-cost diagnostics. Urs Gaudenz, member of Hackteria and Gaudi Labs in Switzerland, recently developed a 3D printable speculum (available on Thingiverse) and develops generic tools using reappropriated elements of widely available consumer products (DVD player motor, hard disks, computer fans), or open designs for digital fabrication. Other projects and prototypes explore the performative field of the post-porn body, as with open source “OpenDrop” microfluidic devices and quartz crystal oscillator sensors, such as “Wild OpenQCM”, which combines two quartz crystals with a theremin circuit to transform the openQCM biosensor into a BodyNoise instrument for sound performance.
GynePunk will be in Bourges, France, in November for Rencontres Bandits-Mages.