Out of Hand: Materialising the Digital

Aki Inomata


White Chapel from Why Not Hand Over a ‘Shelter’ to Hermit Crabs? Series, 2014-2015

Video, photographs, mixed media

‘Hermit crabs change their shells as they grow. Sometimes they are kicked out of their shelters by stronger hermit crabs and forced to exchange shells. Aki Inomata gave hermit crabs shells she had made for them, and if they liked them, they moved into the ‘shelters’. The shelters represent cities from around the world. In White Chapel, the shelter is a wedding chapel. More than 60% of Japanese weddings have Christian-style ceremonies; for Inomata, these imitations of western-style architecture seem to reflect postcolonial identities living inside Japanese people.’


Hermit crabs are strange creatures, their little homes go everywhere they go, swapping them throughout their life time. Some hermit crabs are bullied out of their little homes on their backs and have to find new ones.

Aki Inomata has created several different works including hermit crabs, dogs, birds, turtles and octopuses. She is interested in nature and artist practice combined.


White Chapel is not the first set of homes Aki has created for hermit crabs, she has produced a series of homes for them. She is interested in hermit crabs as it Japanese their name translates to mean ‘somebody living in a temporary dwelling’ (called a Yadokari). Aki’s first set of shells for the hermit crabs were created in 2009 as a submission in as exhibition titles ‘No Man’s Land’ which was held in the French embassy in Japan. The idea of the hermit crab not having a permanent house their whole life is what inspired her to create the works. Previously in Japan the French embassy has been occupied by the Japanese, until the French were able to occupy it again. This is where the concept of no man’s land came from to be the subject of the exhibition.


The hermit crab shells were firstly made by Aki who did not study the inside of the shells, these were ignored by the crabs. When she looked more closely at the shells the mapped them and then 3D printed them so they would fit the natural shapes of the shells that hermit crabs are used to. These 3D printed shells were then accepted by the crabs. Aki saw the exchange of the French embassy between the Japanese and French as a peculiar exchange of land, much like what happens to many migrants and travellers exploring cities. The change of lands, and in the case of the hermit crabs, homes. Aki wanted to print homes, or shells to us, as representations of different cities and cultures globally. There is New York towers, Tokyo homes, Paris apartments and Gothic Chapels. The last type of shell, the Gothic Chapels are the homes created and focused on in the White Chapel exhibition.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In Japan there is a great interest in the Western way of life. This includes religious practices and customs for special occasions such as weddings. 1% of Japanese people practice Christianity, but 60% of weddings held in Japan are Christian. The outside of these churches or chapels are often painted white and styled to fit in with their surroundings as most architecture in Japan in built upwards to deal with the lack of space. Furthermore, these churches or chapels are not fitted out on the inside to match their outside design. But instead and dark and cramped with car parks in the basement. Something that is very unusual for a church. Aki is interested in the Japanese people’s the Western styles they adopt and shape to fit into their lives in Japan. Aki quotes, ‘And I ask myself, Are we Japanese living in a mimicry of Western world? For me these imitation, or I would say reproduction or rearrangement of Western-style architecture seem to reflect identities of post colonialism inside of Japanese people.’ (Aki 2014). Further research into Japanese interest into Gothic style is evident in fashion especially.

Evident in Aki’s works she has tried to integrate different cultures and styles of housing for the hermit crab shells. The Why Not Hand Over a ‘Shelter’ to Hermit Crabs? Series began in 2009. This mirrored, and still does, the present movement of people across the globe from migration and travel. Also like the hermit crabs, some people are forced out of their homes by the ‘bigger’ people. This forced or bullied movement creates thousands of refugees looking for new homes. Much like the dilemma many hermit crabs face. Aki highlights a major social issue, though sadly the solution is not as easy as 3D printing people new homes.


Overall Aki Inomata has captured the social and political message she wanted to emulate in her art well. By having to produce a work based around the subject of ‘No Man’s Land’ it has lead Aki to make a connection between nature and the man made. She also highlights the political and issues surrounding nature in her works with not just the hermit crabs, but also the other works she has done involving animals. The political issue mainly covered in the hermit crab works, especially the White Chapel series is that of how the Western world influences the East. For the majority of history, the western influences have overpowered the East and Aki senses that their influence is still heavily present with the customs of Christian style weddings and Gothic churches all over Japan. Aki is obviously passionate about nature and animals as in many of her art works she creates shelters or homes for animals that are sustainable for them.


3D Printing

Like Aki Inomata’s 3D printed shells for her hermit crabs and the exhibition that sparked her idea for the pieces, 3D printing was also created in Japan. In 1980 the patent for the technology of 3D printing, known as Rapid Prototyping technologies (RP) was filed by Dr Kodama. This patent was not conducted successfully though and in 1986 when Charles Hull invented a SLA machine which allowed him to co-find 3D Systems Corporation which to this day is still one of the most successful 3D printing companies in the world. For the rest of the century and into the mid 2000 various companies created high end and more ‘affordable’ printers. Hull’s company 3D Systems Corporation in 2007 released a printer for regular businesses and people to buy. But at a cost of $10 000 it fell short of customers’ expectations of affordability of a new technology. It was not until 2012 that printer was accessible to consumers. Since then technology for 3D printers has continued to grow. They are accessible to students in schools and university, to people in their businesses and homes. And of course to artists such as Aki Inomata. The clear, hard plastic used to print the shells for the hermit crabs is durable and water safe both things needed to be suitable for a hermit crab home. Also the inside needed to be more than just hollow as Aki learnt from her first attempt at printing the shells. Mapping and scanning the shells insides made sure the crabs would enter then and make them their home. The right shape and fit was important to make sure the shell felt as natural as possible to the hermit crabs making them their new home.

Aki Inomata Process

Aki Inomata has a great interest with animals and nature. Several of her notable series contain works surrounding animals. These include teaching a parakeet named Wasbi-ho that speaks Japanese as a representation of learning a new language to connect with others (French lessons with a Parakeet 2010). Incorporating a turtle into representing the world after the earthquakes in Japan in 2011 (world outside your world 2011). Raising bagworms for two years until they had matured enough to make them little bags to love out of to represent gender roles in society (girl, girl, girl… 2012). Making coats for herself and her dog out of each others hair to show the relationship between a human and their pet (I Wear the Dog’s Hair, and the Dog Wears Mine 2014).

Aki uses so many of her pets in her art works as she wants to raise awareness surrounding the importance of understanding the ownership of a pet and what it means. She notes that there have been unusual hybrids of animals bred in Japan such as a racoon and a dog.  Aki hopes that all of her pets have been happy to live with her and that she has done the right thing by keeping them. This is why she uses them in her art works, to make people feel empathy towards animals and realise how much of a role that they play in our lives. Especially people that have pets.





























Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s