Hermit crabs carry their homes on their back in the form of an empty seashell that they scoop up and use both as shelter and as protection from predators. Due to the human tendency to collect the colorful objects along sandy shores, the hermit crabs don’t have a lot of shell options and, as a result, they are becoming more and more homeless. In 2010, and with concern for the little creatures, Japanese artist Aki Inomata developed this project entitled Why Not Hand Over a “Shelter” to Hermit Crabs? She has fused her love of architecture with 3D printing technology to create a gorgeous set of crystalline shelters for hermit crabs. The artist investigates the notion of national displacement by giving the grabs a chance to move from their shell-homes into her man-made architectural wonders. Read below for the full interview…
Most artists who grew up in Japan tell me that they migrate to the U.S. because the trade provides a better life. Why do you opt to live and work in Tokyo?
Aki: I live in Tokyo now, the main reason is my job. I’m working as part-time lecturer at Yokohama National University. I love Tokyo because I was born in Tokyo, but I’d like to live in the USA, and other countries.
Your latest project involving hermit crabs is quite interesting. How did that creative concept come to fruition?
Aki: I worked on this piece when I took part in “No Man’s Land”, a group exhibition held at the French Embassy in Tokyo. I was inspired by the story I heard about the French embassy’s relocation. In 2009, the building of the former French embassy got demolished, and the new building was built next to it. The land, where the old building was, was French territory until October, 2009. Then it became Japanese territory for fifty years. After the 50 years, it will become French territory again. It made me think of transfer of identity, which then led to hermit crabs who change their shells as they grow. They could look completely different depending on the shell they choose. Making use of the biology of the hermit crabs, I made several types of shells in the shape of buildings. I connected my study of the hermit’s transformation to the adaptability of humans, whether it be in acquiring a new nationality, immigrating, or relocating.
When tackling the shell, how do you ensure you can create stunning shells while still livable by the crab? Does it hinder their life in anyway?
Aki: I used CT scanning! Typically a medical imaging procedure that produces cross-sectional pictures of the body, to capture highly-detailed, 3-dimentional rendering of an unoccupied seashell, which one of my hermit crabs had abandoned. Based on the tomography of the interior of the shell, I prototyped with rapid prototyping and produced several types of habitable shelters. It does NOT hinder their life.
Similar to the turtle shell as well, what was the ‘trial and error’ process like when creating several types of habitable shelters until you came upon the exact one you wanted to use?
Aki: This project required huge amount of trial and error. At first I thought hermit crabs could take any shape of the shelter. However, it wasn’t so at all. I tried several but they didn’t pay attention. In several years time, I worked on this project again when I found CT scanning and 3D printing. Even shelters made by a 3D printer, they quite often abandoned them. My shelters aren’t really popular among them. Then I changed the size into 103% of the original size, and then 105%… finally hermit crabs decided to move in! That’s the work you can see.
Connected your study of the hermit’s transformation to the self-adaptation of humans, what other animal/insect/human links exist? Which would you like to explore more?
Aki: I am interested in “technology” that animal/insect have. For example, dams that are made by beavers, beehives, honey and so on. I like to think about the relationship of humans and animals.
What are some of your favorite Asian films?
Aki: I love the movies of Hayao Miyazaki. I’m inspired by his works very much. I especially like “Kiki’s Delivery Service“.
You also did some work with bagworms that have similar characteristics of leaving their shell…or bag! What challenges were presented working with bagworms that crabs or turtles didn’t demand?
Aki: Yes, there is a point that is similar to hermit crabs and the bagworms. Unlike the turtle and hermit crabs, it was very hard to find bagworms, because the number of bagworms is decreasing. I asked to cooperate with the costume clothing brand VIVIENNE TAM in this work.
Male bagworms leave their protective cases when they become adults and become moths. However, female bagworms remain in their bags for their whole life. They simply stay and wait for the males. When I heard about this, I felt that there are some similarities with the human world. I cut pieces of clothes into thin pieces, gave them to the bagworms, and they used them to make their own bags. (It’s important thing that bagworms make their own bags.) Cutting pieces of colored paper into fine strips, and giving them to bagworms to make their cases is a game that Japanese children have been playing for many years.
Which Asian artists in NYC do you admire and what do you hope to accomplish if you ever move there?
Aki: I have respect Yuken Teruya. In New York, many artists have gathered from all over the world. So I’d like to have a relationship with them. I want to stay in New York. Manhattan appeared in the work of “Why Not Hand Over a ‘Shelter’ to Hermit Crabs?” I am very interested in this unique landscape. So, I’d like to make the new piece in the motif of the work of this city.
What lies ahead for you in terms of projects? Any ideas or plans you can share with us?
Aki: I’m creating new works about relationships [between] pets and it’s masters. I will hold a solo exhibition March 18th – April 6th, 2014 at HAGISO. I hope you’ll like it.
All images are © of AKI INOMATA. To see more of her work visit her official site below: