The creation of a protective surface was the original survival project. The tiny organism or life at the smallest unit, set out to form a protective shield—a layer shaped around its core, an enclosure that echoes the structures of its surroundings. It covers itself in a layer of death (a corporeal reflection of its environment), at the border of what ceases to be living matter—forming an unyielding cloak of material, ultimately a container or support for its livelihood.
This has continued to be performed throughout the organism’s evolution, finding itself in other iterations of this life-preserving container—skin, womb, egg. The container took form again as one of the first of human inventions. In her “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” essay, Ursula K. Le Guin walks us through the implications of the container as a cultural artefact. She writes defending the carrier as an alternative to the weapon as the paramount pre-historic tool, the spear-shaped rock or pointy bone,—which supports the narrative of the hero, the first man.
Instead, her theory defends that the container or recipient is the paradigm in which we, as humans, related to the environment as a provider of resources for our survival, which we in turn collected and gathered in bags, boxes, storage rooms and buildings.
Humans exist in this container paradigm, repurposing the carrier many times into what we define as “technology.” Technology is any mediated interface between humans and the physical world, a means of activating resources and their inherent potential for subsistence. How people obtain and keep food, clothe themselves, build shelter, etc. are all technological endeavours by design. Humans have grasped early on that information too is vital for survival, and soon began to build technologies for its recording and distribution. The quipu, for instance was an ancient Inca device used for recording data, consisting of a system of variously coloured threads knotted in different ways. Like other containers of information, these artefacts have enabled humanity to continuously overcome potential dangers and eventually prevail in the world.
Text description of Carrier Collection exhibition at Boemerang in Arnhem, NL.