From Joshua Harker’s white skulls, to the Smithsonian Institution commissioning a 3D printed portrait of Obama, to gold replica’s of Vincent Van Gogh’s sunflowers; 3D printing has long been embraced by artists as a disruptive technology, in order to experiment with new methods and push creative boundaries.
However, no one seems to have caused shock waves or elicited as much controversy as Megumi Igarashi. On Monday, the provocative Japanese artist managed to escape a jail sentence after a court ruled that she was not guilty of flouting obscenity laws for displaying 3D printed models of her vagina.
Igarashi, who works under the name “Rokudenashiko” or “good-for-nothing girl”, has attracted widespread controversy over the past few years for producing the 3D printed replicas of her genitalia, which were initially commissioned to form part of a display in a sex shop window.
Notably in 2014, the Japanese artist was arrested and briefly imprisoned for building a vagina-shaped kayak, the performative “Pussy Boat” which she rowed along the Tama Rover, and for sending the 3D printer digitized data which was used to build it to the project’s donors.
While the Tokyo court found Igarashi innocent of obscenity charges, claiming her figurines could be considered to be “pop art”, they fined her 400,000 yen ($3,700) for distributing the “obscene” CAD files and digital material – half the figure prosecutors demanded.
According to Judge Mihoko Tanabe, while the 3D printer data was “flat and inorganic”, they were realistic enough to “sexually arouse viewers”. Another dimension is that Igarashi’s 3D scans could be essentially downloaded by anyone she sent them to, and fed into their own 3D printer to create their own replicas.
Igarashi was let off the hook for the bright yellow kayak and colourful figurines however, as they weren’t painted in a skin tone and were abstract enough not be instantly recognized for being sexual objects.
Whilst many think that Igarashi shouldn’t have been subject to a court order in the first place, and that law’s attitude is rather antiquated seeing as the penal code hasn’t been changed for over a century, it seems Igarashi got off lightly. Whilst Japan’s porongraphy industry is worth billions of dollars, paradoxically their obscenity laws are rather rigorous.
Igarashi’s charges were based on Japan’s 1907 penal code, under Article 175 titled “Distribution of Obscene Objects”. The article states that authorities can prosecute “a person who distributes, sells or displays in public an obscene document, drawing or other objects” by sentencing them to up to two years in prison or handing out a fine of up to ¥2,500,000 (£15,846).
“I am of course indignant. I will appeal and continue to fight in court,” Igarashi said, referring to the fine, but added that she was “20-percent happy” that the court acknowledged her figurines as art, repeating that she was “completely innocent”.
For years Igarashi’s notorious case has sent ripples of debate across Japan, and indeed the world, regarding issues of censorship, freedom of speech, the boundaries of art and feminism. During her first trial in 2014, Igarashi told Reuters: “The fact that I was arrested for this at all shows that Japan is still very backwards about women’s sexual expression, that it is not acknowledged at all except as something for men’s pleasure.”
Igarashi claims that her art is designed to tackle stigmas surrounding sexuality, and taboo’s over the female form. “There is huge resistance to women using their body to express themselves”, said the artist, who claims she wants to make “pussy… more casual and pop”.