Nora Heidorn, Touching Matters of Care ('Prorace' cervical cap, 1915-20), 2021, digital prints on paper

Touching Matters of Care ('Prorace' cervical cap, 1915-20)

Exhibited in Unruly Encounters
Southark Park Galleries, London
March 2022

The contraceptive ‘Prorace’ cervical cap was trademarked by Dr. Marie Stopes, instigator of the UK birth control movement and an ardent eugenicist. Through writing and image-making, my PhD research stages this visual artefact as a ‘Matter of Care’ which simultaneously holds narratives about emancipation and oppression, about care and violence. The images propose to resist the eugenic obsession with purity and hygiene by employing touch as both method and metaphor.

In every single drawing or photograph of the cap I have collected during archival research, it is shown sitting on its rim, with the dome and logo facing up. But within the anatomy of the vaginal canal it was designed for, the cap would be the other way around, the shape of a cup rather than a dome, to fit around the cervix. The standard representations of the contraceptive, then, is abstracted from the user’s body. I flipped the print of the side view of the cap on its head. The gesture of flipping the image, enacted by a pair of hands, points to the human body that is implied but absent. The flipped image emphasises its function and wearability inside the body. 

The imagery of hands reaching, holding, and unfolding, which recurs in my visual explorations, enacts my material and conceptual interventions into the depictions of the ‘Prorace’ cap. Representations of touch as the ‘active agency’ in these images speaks to the curatorial ‘doings’ that are required of making the ‘Prorace’ cap a Matter of Care. The metaphor of touch represented by the various gloved and naked hands in my images at once highlights and disrupts the concept of hygiene that was so central to eugenic ideology.

The images result from screenshots taken within a 3D scan of the ‘Prorace’ cervical cap produced by the Science Musuem, London. The artefact is owned by Wellcome Collection, London. 

This research at the Royal College of Art is funded by the LAHP and supervised by Hermione Wiltshire and Gemma Blackshaw.