The Museum of Applied Arts and Science’s current exhibition ‘Out of Hand: Materialising the Digital’ presents an engaging dialogue about the use of digital manufacture in art and a range of other disciplines. The wide range of artists’ artworks aim to take a look at digital technologies role in design and production of objects (MAAS 2017). The exhibition covers the topics of modelling nature, new geometrics, pattern as structure, rebooting revivals, remixing the figure and processuality (MAAS 2017). One artist from this exhibition is Aki Inomata with her 3D printed installation –White Chapel- Why Not Hand Over a “Shelter” to Hermit Crabs? The overall series created by Inomata predominantly features 3D printed hermit crab shells that have been modelled to represent buildings from different cities around the world, placed in glass cabinets in front of a projection showing crabs inhabiting the shells. The work presented at the Museum of Applied Arts and Science focusses on one part of the series made by Inomata.
Inomata’s piece presented at the Out of Hand exhibition is the third work in the series Why Not Hand Over a “Shelter” to Hermit Crabs? and features a white chapel as it’s main subject. The installation features three modified shells that are designed to look like wedding chapels enclosed in glass cases resting atop podiums. The modified shells are 3D printed from CT scans and hold an immense amount of detail. The artist studied seashells, the natural habitat of hermit crabs, by scanning the physical objects to obtain the exact shape of the inside of the shells. The scanned images were then manipulated digitally to construct the final shape of the reconstructed shell to be printed digitally as a miniature plastic sculpture. Inomata uses plastic to form the shells, what could this symbolise? Perhaps Inomata used plastic because it was the only practical choice of material at the time, being easier to 3D print than other materials such as glass.
Digital fabrication is known as methods of computer-assisted production (Gumbs 2011, p. 7). Types of digital sculpture include computer aided design, computer-assisted manufacturing, CNC milling and/or Rapid Prototyping (Gumbs 2011, p. 8). 3D printing is a solid free-form fabrication. In 2005 3D modelling saw many advances. Digitally rendered concepts could now leave the computer and be printed more easily into a physical form (Gumbs 2011, p. 7). Using CT scans Inomata 3D printed her hermit crab shells. 3D printing involves an object being built layer by layer from the bottom to top (Gumbs 2011, p. 9). Inomata would of chosen 3D printing because it can capture small-scale detail extremely well. 3D printing has become a solution for forms that could not mold because of a die-lock (Gumbs 2011, p. 9).
Inomata specifically chose hermit crabs as they change and adapt constantly ‘rehoming’ themselves to new shells (Inomata 2017). A lot of the time hermit crabs are forcefully removed from their shells they occupy by stronger hermit crabs (Inomata 2017). From this Inomata draws the comparison between Japanese people and the postcolonial identities living inside of them (Inomata 2017). Post colonialism refers to the effects of colonisation in terms of the culture of the colonisers and colonised (Buchanan 2010, p. 372).
Aki Inomata was first inspired to create this work that explores issues of migration and nationality when she exhibited a work in the “No Man’s Land” exhibition held at the French Embassy in Japan (Inomata 2017). The exhibition focused on how the French Embassy had to give the land the embassy was built on back to Japan. At this event Inomata reflected on how culture can be transient and does not always fix itself to one geographical location.
Inomata created these shells to see if the hermit crabs would take to them and subsequently make the modified shells their new home. Aki Inomata in this series has also developed a visual representation of postcolonial identities living in Japanese people using 3D printed hermit shells that have been modified to look like different cities around the world (Inomata 2017). Inomata used hermit crabs as an example of colonialism due to the fact, that they can be kicked out of their shells by stronger crabs, therefore forced to change shells (Inomata 2017). The Japanese were forced into western culture in a violent way due to World War II. The Japanese had to rebuild themselves, adopting an image resembling the Americans who occupied Japan immediately after the war. They lost their homes to a stronger occupying force and learnt to adapt to new forms of shelter. The western style of architecture depicted in the modified shells created by Inomata, reflect Japanese postcolonial identities (Inomata 2017).
Japan became an international country after the second world war so that might be why Inomata chose to do a range of buildings from around the world and wedding chapels for her hermit crabs to inhabit. The use of an animal as small as a hermit crab and their shells is interesting when being used as a representation for a topic that is so far reaching. Above and directly behind the three podiums displaying the shells is a video projection playing a short reel of the hermit crabs moving into their new ‘homes.’ The wedding chapel represents chapels in Japan that have no ties to religious space but are solely for the celebration of weddings (Inomata 2017). Inomata comments on the interesting reality of westernised Japanese weddings. She shows how the Japanese have appropriated western tradition while not understanding the traditional religious significance of churches. Just like her hermit crabs have adopted a plastic shell and call it home.
Christian style weddings are the norm for around sixty percent of Japanese people when only around one percent of the Japanese population identifies as being Christian (Inomata 2017). Inomata comments that a person’s national identity is easily interchangeable just as a hermit crab’s shell is. Hermit crabs are identified by their shells and Inomata says she is Japanese but could easily change her nationality to French for example (Reuters 2015). These chapels are built with a mixture of styles from Gothic to Romanesque, these forms are digitally reworked with a contemporary twist into the 3D printed hermit crab shells symbolising the post colonial identities living within Japanese people to this current day (Inomata 2017). As Nakeisha Gumbs from the Museum of Arts and Design says “digital fabrication has lead to disciplines being merged, such as architecture and fine art to test the bounds of imagination and use of digital technologies in art making” (Gumbs 2011, p. 7). In a sense Inomata discusses Japanese people and their inclination to borrow from western culture but not completely change their traditional identity during the process.
When first peering into the glass case it is as if you are peering into a world that seems utopian on the surface, as if the shells are some sort of clear and pristine disguise for a better world. After reading Inomata’s artist statement and her intention, the viewer learns that the shells are modified to look beautiful but are in fact hiding a dark past. It is not really clear upon first impression what the work is depicting. Inomata has made an assumption about the knowledge and intuition of her audience. She more so relies on her video projection and artist statement to help the viewer to understand how she came to fruition with her idea and artistic process. Viewing the video projection alongside the modified shells almost takes away from the intricacy of the digitally fabricated shells. Although Inomata’s work was not as interactive as her neighbouring artworks, it had a more lasting impression than the pieces which rely solely on interaction. Why Not Hand Over a “Shelter” to Hermit Crabs? has a more lasting impression on the viewer as the meaning is not worn out immediately after walking away from the artwork. It becomes more than the immediate ‘oh that’s cool’ impression. It lives on after walking away, provoking the viewer to think about post colonialism in the digital age.
Inomata formulates the piece as if it is a technical project rather than an art piece. This is an interesting way at approaching the artistic process. By doing this, she somewhat removes the mystery from of the work by presenting it as if it is solely a scientific experiment. In using live crabs as her subjects she experiments with their behaviours to modify their habitats. Through her artistic journey, Inomata undertook research on the hermit crabs and what kind of shelters they would find easy to adopt and adapt to, as a scientist would. The process of 3D modelling the architecturally designed shells would be extremely intricate and mathematical. It does not really appear as a typical artistic process until you view the final product. The work on many levels is still very artistic but the artist does not express herself as you would if you were doing it directly through the medium, such as a painter would when they use oils on canvas. It becomes more about designing and building, relying on digital technology to construct the piece rather than relying on the expertise of one’s hand. It also becomes more about creating an artistic concept and then materialising this with digital technology. Although it is not about replacing the handmade with machines but aiding it into new and innovative art pieces that could never come to conception without the digital. Computer controlled tools are becoming an art in themselves to be able to describe physical objects with increasing detail that the naked eye could not copy (Gumbs 2011, p. 40). As Nakeisha Gumbs outlines, digital fabrication is about the discovery [of digital mediums] by artists and designers and how these creatives use these mediums to “construct and assemble complex forms and expressions that re-define our notions of creative production and the creative process” (2011, p. 7).
In -White Chapel- Why Not Hand Over a “Shelter” to Hermit Crabs? Inomata undergoes a process of exploring, experimenting, producing, and final presentation of the artwork, and shows this journey to her audience as a piece of her overall construction. She uses a rare mixed medium that includes live hermit crabs, and digitally created plastic shells resembling human architecture, to entertain her intellectual concepts of post colonialism and cultural appropriation. The fact Inomata used a video display to the hermit crabs moving into their newly created shell habitats, helps the viewer understand the depth of the artist’s journey and the intent of her work. However, had she displayed the shells without the video, one wonders whether the viewer would receive a higher appreciation of the shells as a work of art within themselves. This is an inventive example of materialised digital art.
Buchanan, I 2010, Oxford Dictionary of Critical Theory, Oxford University Press, New York.
Gumbs, N 2011, Teacher resource Kit. Out of Hand Exhibition: Materializing the Postdigital, Museum of Arts and Design, viewed 26 April 2017, <http://madmuseum.org/sites/default/files/static/ed/Out%20of%20Hand_TRP_Final_0_0.pdf>
Inomata, A 2013, Process of ‘Why Not Hand Over a Shelter to Hermit Crabs? Aki Inomata, online video, 27 September, YouTube, viewed 22 April 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mU5wZ3PyJOw>
Inomata, A 2017, Why Not Hand Over a Shelter to Hermit Crabs?, Aki Inomata, viewed 22 April 2017, <http://www.aki-inomata.com/works/hermit_WhiteChapel/>
Museum of Applied Arts and Science 2017, Out of Hand: Materialising the Digital, Museum of Applied Arts and Science, viewed 22 April 2017, <https://maas.museum/event/out-of-hand-materialising-the-digital/>
Museum of Arts and Design 2015, Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital, Museum of Arts and Design, viewed 26 April 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLIP2YcqM7VGobey-PINdx7l6WDbRzNHU->
Reuters 2015, Japenese Artist Makes 3D Homes for Hermit Crabs, Reuters, viewed 26 April 2017, <http://www.reuters.com/video/2015/12/10/japanese-artist-makes-3d-homes-for-hermi?videoId=366626588>