Critical Analysis of “Why Not Hand Over a ‘Shelter’ to Hermit Crabs?” (2009-16)

In this blog post I will be expanding upon my previous analysis of Aki Inomata’s series, Why Not Hand Over a ‘Shelter’ to Hermit Crabs? that can be found in this blog post. I have chosen this work as I find not only the process fascinating, but also the subject matter as well as the intention.

The following are my photos taken from the Out of Hand: Materialising the Digital exhibition that was on display at the Museum of Applied Arts and Science in Sydney recently. There were only three examples of the series displayed in front of a video on the work.

 

Images of ‘White Chapel’ from Why Not Hand Over a ‘Shelter’ to Hermit Crabs at the Out of Hand Exhibition (2017)

Inomata goes into great detail for her works. Why Not Hand Over a ‘Shelter’ to Hermit Crabs? Is an ongoing series of 3D printed hermit crab shells, each with their own unique structure to them. Each different series of structures represent different contexts. She had already had hermit crabs as pets, and was intrigued by the role their shells played as ‘shelters’ when compared to what a human definition of shelter would be.

In her biography statement on her website, Inomata states that her “art results from working together with living beings” (2015). She sees reflections of humanity within other living beings and vice versa – and interchanges the roles of living beings with humans in her work, offering new perspectives on being human and rediscovering the self. This is evident when looking at her series of hermit crab shells which make commentaries of social and architectural networking; how human sociality reflects the architecture that surrounds her and how the architecture influences the social.

Images from Why Not Hand Over a “Shelter” to Hermit Crabs? (2010-2016)

The idea for the exchanging of shelters of human-like structure to the hermit crabs came from observing  a similar land-exchange between nations in Tokyo:

“My idea for this piece came about when I participated in the “No Man’s Land” exhibition that was held at the French Embassy in Japan in 2009. This work was inspired by the fact that the land of the former French Embassy in Japan had been French until October 2009, and then became Japanese for the following fifty years, after which it will be returned to France. I was surprised to hear this story, and associated this image with the way that hermit crabs exchange shelters. A piece of land is peacefully exchanged between two countries. ” – Aki Inomata (2015)

The hermit crabs, in this sense, seem to take the role of refugees, “crossing over national borders”; changing the appearance of the shelters to represent cities from around the world, and gifting this ‘land’ to the creatures. After exploring this concept, Inomata moved on from exploring the ideas of land exchange from human to living being, and began to explore other social dynamics that humans have placed into architecture, buildings and homes. Having grown up in Tokyo and traveled around the world, she compares the theatrics of structures in her home city to those of Western society, even questioning the mimicry of the architecture and what it means for a social identity. An exemplary work of this would be the one included in the exhibition – White Chapel.

In her travels to Western countries, Inomata tends to observe the world around her – the culture and architecture, noticing the way that Tokyo cultures tend to borrow or appropriate these styles in their own locality.

“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 postcolonialism inside of Japanese people.” – Aki Inomata (2015)

She plays with this concept in White Chapel, using the model of a wedding chapel found in Japan built onto the model of the Hermit crab home (or ‘shelter’ as she calls it). She cites the wedding chapel as one such example of the way the Japanese appropriate Western culture. The chapel is mostly a facade; lacking extreme details like those found in the Christian-affiliated churches and chapels of the West. This is chapel is for aesthetics only – no religious affiliation and now worship takes place here: it is a place for weddings only. Most Japanese weddings seem to be held in the ‘Christian’ style – in chapels that mix architectural designs from the Gothic and Romanesque cultures of the past.

The purpose the shelter serves is temporary – before long, the hermit crab will move on from this shelter and move into another one, before becoming populated again with a different hermit crab. It seems that like the superficial facades in Tokyo, the hermit crab shelters are also rather frivolous.

That’s not to say that the process of making these shelters has been easy for Inomata, though. There was quite a lot of trial, error and research that went into being able to convincingly replicate the structure of a hermit crab shell in a way that the crabs would not reject them.

“The first time that I made this piece, I only gave the hermit crabs spherical shapes, but they ignored my “shelters”. Using CT scans, I studied the natural shapes of hermit crab shells, and by printing out the 3DCG data using 3D printers, I was able to create “shelters” that the hermit crabs would move into.” – Aki Inomata (2016)

Hermit crabs can be quite fussy with their shelters – the shells need to be the perfect size for them and the insides of the shells need to be shaped in a way that the hermit crab is able to retreat into if needed. They are quite complex – something which Inomata overlooked in her first iteration of the project.

To overcome this, she did some more research and was able to develop a way to replicate the shells in a way that the hermit crabs would accept. She used a CT scanner to capture the highly detailed 3 dimensional renderings of unoccupied seashells that her own hermit crabs had previously abandoned. She used these scans to then create digital 3D “castings”, which her own designs would then be modelled on to. For her prototype works, she based the designs on apartments in Paris, Home based architecture from Tokyo and city architecture before moving on to specific structures. These structures were then 3D printed with clear 3D printing resin using a technique called stereolithography (or SLA). SLA builds layer-by-layer using liquid resin which is exposed to UV light which solidifies the resin into polymers. It is a very long process, with some smaller prints even taking more than 24 hours to complete.

The final outcome is a usable and acceptable shell that the hermit can choose to move into (or even be forced into). Hermit crabs are nomadic – once they outgrow their shells they move onto bigger ones, however other crabs may eye off another’s shell and decide they like it more and fight over it. A smaller crab may move into a shell abandoned by a larger crab. This results in a trading of shelters, which Inomata compares to the way humans may treat land ownership – while embedding the land with culture and history.

“Hermit crabs change their shells one after another, in order to accommodate their growth. Sometimes, they are even forced by stronger hermit crabs to swap shells. Inspired at an exhibition at the French Embassy in Japan, in which she participated in 2009, AKI INOMATA started a project in which she had hermit crabs move into shells of her own making. Based on CT scans of real hermit crabs’ shells, she creates artificial 3D-printed shells with the cityscapes of various metropolises around the world, such as Manhattan in NYC. Through examining the transformation of hermit crabs, which change dramatically in appearance through moving from one shell into another, INOMATA questions where our own identity lies.” – KENPOKU ART (2016)

“Why Not Hand Over a “Shelter” to Hermit Crabs? (Sea)” installation view of KENPOKU ART 2016 Photos: Keizo Kioku and Shizune Shiigi

 

References:

http://www.aki-inomata.com/works/hermit_WhiteChapel/
http://www.aki-inomata.com/info/
http://www.aki-inomata.com/statement/
http://www.aki-inomata.com/works/hermit/
http://www.aki-inomata.com/works/hermit_2009/
http://www.aki-inomata.com/works/hermit_sea/

https://www.livescience.com/38190-stereolithography.html

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Week 13-15: The Final Work: “UNITY”

 

I was absent during week 13, but the boys used the time to work out some of the technical sides of the work. They managed to get the sound working through the laptop, and get all the footage of the hands aligned together and working properly.

We met up in week 14 on Thursday, so that we could set up the last of the project, look over the artists statement and discuss our presentation.

I must admit that the final work did resonate with me and I was happy with where we got – especially given the difficulties we had throughout the semester of settling on a concept and the technical issues that followed.

While setting up the TO Glen advised us to use a second laptop with a splitter so that we could have 3 larger projectors and do away with the crappy Qumis entirely (yay!). A bit of tinkering with the set up and some re-alignment later, and the work looked fantastic. We added some decent speakers so that we could actually hear the sound playing.

 

Unfortunately we did have some sound syncing issues which were the result of using two separate laptops without the ability to start all 4 sets of footage at the same time – if we were to change one thing about the work, it would be to figure out a way that this wouldn’t be an issue and that the sound was more effective.

I personally felt that the work stood as a metaphor for our own journey of creation – that we had our differences, so we started again with a blank canvas and worked together to create something fun and interactive by stripping the layers back and working with our skills and what we learned from experimenting. This fuelled our narrative, which I then turned into an artist’s statement.

When discussing, we thought about how our work represented the following:

“We decided to include a variety of symbols to act as the basis of our work. Using hands as a symbol of being able to recognise a person (2nd to a person’s face); the black background acts as a simple and even playground for all the hands; the different forms of tapping representing the diversity of people, each with a different beat and rhythm, but ultimately all playing as one; and the large hand in the middle in the shape of a fist acting as the heart of the entire group constantly beating with everyone around it. The purpose of the blocking of different hands is to show that people come and go, whether it be someone known for a long time, or someone new entering.”

I then went and deduced the main points from our discussion:

  • Black background a ‘playground’ blank canvas to build upon from the imagination
  • Hands work together to create something together
  • Unity through diversity – differentiality creates something unique and wholesome
  • Large hand in centre is the ‘heart’; keeps time and direction, the common ground that pulls everything together
  • You can block the hands but they are still heard – you cannot stop the noise and you cannot hide all the hands at once by yourself – the hands are not oppressed by your presence or by you trying to silence them

 

Which we then turned into our final artists statement below. Overall I’m glad I stepped back and gave the group work another chance, while my vision for a final project was vastly different to what we ended up producing, I was still very happy with the final result.

UNITY

Media Projection

Will, Mackenzie, Robert, Chloe

The world is a connected place, now more than ever; across continents we have the ability to collaborate and create.

We start with a black canvas – a playground where we can build from our imaginations. We can use this canvas to tell stories, to design, to make art. We start from nothing – we put our hands together and produce something tangible to be seen and heard.

UNITY Explores the result of many hands coming together to construct from the bare. It is a story of uniting our own experiences, our skills and our imaginations to forge something new and unique: using our diversity to form something wholesome, and to illustrate this story to a rhythm. It proclaims that creativity cannot be silenced with intervention if we come together.

The centre is the heart – the starting point on our canvas, the guiding structure that keeps time and gives us direction – the motivation. It composes the overall beat – with the surrounding hands cooperating to build multiple layers.

You can try to block the hands but the others are still present – they are still heard; you cannot stop the noise, and they are not oppressed by your presence. You cannot silence them.

People may come and go – but with a blank canvas, diversity, and creativity, you can collaboratively build something unique and different each time you come together.

UNITY uses multiple projections timed to a solid beat to create an immersive and interactive story-telling experience with the audience. The audience member may try to place themselves in the scene, to obstruct or to support in the collaboration.

Week 11: On Jamming/ Push and Pull

Our task for this week was to disagree.

Considering we’d already been doing that all semester, I feel like we’d sort of already come to an impasse, and then we had finally begun to understand each other and not really feel like it was necessary to disagree any longer. Instead we retreated to the classroom, away from the studio, and decided to work on expanding our concept.

In order to fulfill our task we decided to split up into pairs and work on two different concepts, and then debate our concepts at the end. We needed to keep in mind a narrative for our concepts so that our art told a story.

I’d just been out a few nights prior shooting the night sky and my mind was sort of still wrapped up in the stars – literally. I decided to work with this and the feeling I got when looking at the stars by combining it with the work we’d been doing in the weeks prior and work with our shadows.

18301576_1874895292536334_8166833784286483304_n
The image I took that I decided to separate into layers and have us ‘flying through space’ with.

My concept was to have us sort of flying through space, layering the stars so that as we walked amongst the different projectors, we would be placing ourselves in space itself. It would add another dimensional layer and maintain interactivity.

This was challenging to say the least, and did take a lot of the workshop time to figure out how to divide effectively. I ended up having to make each layer move slower for the ‘further’ away it was supposed to be, and making each layer become bigger to give the zooming effect. You can see the two stars layers in these videos:

 

These were layered over the background, which was projected from the roof so you couldn’t walk in front of it:

 

I added some effects to the stars to make them look twinkling and then to the background layer so that it looked like the galaxy cloud was blooming.

Unfortunately when we put all 3 together it didn’t look very effective as the Qumi projectors just weren’t powerful enough to handle the images, so the background was overpowering while the stars were very faint.

We did like this concept, and the other half of the group saw narrative potential within the work. Not only was flying through space appealing, but there was also the unintentional story of light pollution that we told with the piece. By standing in front of the lights and interfering with our bodies, it was a sort of metaphor for the way that human obstruction was ruining the night sky – the more you obstructed it, the less stars you could see – which with light pollution, the more human interference with lights, the less stars were visible as they had to compete for brightness.

By the end of the workshop time though, we decided that it wasn’t a strong enough concept for us to continue going with it so we agreed to form a group chat online so that we could work together over the next week and come up with something new.

Week 10: Presenting your work

Our projected work: 1. What it looked like on the wall. 2. The background.
3. The cut out figures that were overlapped.

This week was fairly short and straightforward. We were very short for time this week in terms of experiments – and as we had kept changing our ideas in the previous weeks, we hadn’t really settled on a solid concept yet. We decided to just present the optical illusion from last week with the figures in front of the lake. People seemed to like the work, however the common point of feedback was that they have already seen this sort of illusion in our previous work – and that we now need to work on a narrative and a way to expand our projections and interactivity to actually mean something.

We got to look at the work of other groups too – we weren’t the only ones who’d really been struggling to find a solid path, and some other groups seemed to know what they wanted to do and had settled on a narrative right from the beginning and were pretty far along.

Not to worry though – we always have next week to continue blocking it out!

Week 9: Interactive Process

This week was… Interesting.

We ended up going two completely different directions – but that’s okay. After last week, I knew that we had creative differences and the only way to get through that was to just keep working through it. I’ll go through what I had planned first, and then what we ended up going with in the end.

So after last week’s disagreement, I decided to go home and continue working down the path that we had started, with the aim of extending the work beyond what we started with. I felt that the projections were flat, and while interactive, lacked a third dimension. So I went about moving the work into an imaginary corner to turn a one-dimension work into a 3-dimensional cube-like space.

The aim was to have 3 projectors: one mounted to the roof, and two on the floor. The one on the roof would span the gap of both corners and project horizontal lines, where the two on the floor (pointed at the opposite walls so that the projections cross) would extend outwards and create a 3D effect. Artist’s impression below…

artists impression 2.jpg

I created 2 sets of animations – the arrows for the left, the right, and the lines travelling down. I’ll admit it hurt my eyes to create but it was fun to play around with. I ended up doing both colour and black and white – I think I liked the black and white more. I made up a video of how the animations would look with all the layers together (not projected).

 

Very trippy – I would have loved to have seen it projected into a corner – however we ended up having to create a contingency plan as the gallery was full and there were no corner spaces available for us to play around in (sadface).

So instead we went with the boys’ idea of creating something visual and working with optical illusions.

They liked the idea of the drawings that had another image hidden in them, and wanted to use the shadow illusion effect as an advantage to interact and interfere with the illusion itself.

This was very difficult to work with though, as the additive colour of the overlapping projections didn’t really want to work in our favour.

We tried to trouble shoot by cutting some figures from our chosen image out to overlay, but we found that it ruined the effect – so instead we kept the original image, separated the figures we liked, and then cloned in the gaps to create a complete background that we placed the figures over the top of.

In the first image above you can see the complete illusion: A moustached man created by elements of the background and the figures. In the second image I have removed 2 human figures in the foreground and cloned in the background behind them with photoshop, so that we could project these over the top. In the 3rd image we experimented with silhouetting the figures so that we could overlay the cut out images.

In this instance we ended up using the second and last pictures – although with the overlapping projections, you could still see straight through the figures. It ended up looking like this:

edited.jpg

Not what we were aiming for, but still effective. The illusion was still there and you were still able to block the two figures.

By the end of it though, we felt the effort that took to produce it outweighed the practicality and effectiveness of the work itself so we decided to brainstorm at home and see what else we could come up with.

Week 8: Experimentation

Unfortunately we had a bit of a disagreement in where we were going to go next with our project – partly because we weren’t really communicating effectively as a team. I left the workshop quite upset at the conclusion of the class, about ready to give up and work solo. I spoke to Jo and Matt, though, and they urged me to give it another go – so I did.

The group and I had some very different ideas of how to experiment; I wanted to work more with multi-sensory lights, lines, colours, and general mind-bending – staying true to the original project, keeping the playfulness of the interaction we’d created. However, the boys wanted to move on to optical illusions and imagery. We decided to work on that next week and continued what we were doing today.

What we ended up doing this week was working with lines instead. I’d spent the lesson creating something very similar to what we did last week, only this time I added lines moving vertically and horizontally across each other while the colours changed. When this was rendering too slowly, Will stepped in and recreated similar on his faster laptop, but with wavy lines instead – so we used that to present with. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of it but I did get some ideas from the ensuing discussion.

The result of this week’s experimentation was that when someone walked through the light of one projector, then the shadow of that projection would be filled in by the directional lines of the other. It was quite fun to look at, and even trippy at times.

artists impression
Pretty much how it worked – 2 projectors projecting different coloured lines – when you stand in front of one projector the shadow blocks that colour and is filled by the other.

 

We went home with differing opinions on where to go next, and on Matt and Jo’s suggestion, I decided to try what I’d thought of during class in the week ahead.

I’ll update the progress on that for next week’s blog.

Week 7: Recreation and Material Discourse

This week was a little more interesting than the previous weeks – we have now moved on from researching to actually doing things! Our task for today was to choose a category that we felt aligned to our interests. The categories were:

  • Expressing Digitality
    • Textuality and expression
  • Variable Materiality
    • Materials and immaterial processes
  • Multisensory Interaction
    • Light, shadows, and displacement
  • (Re)configuring Spacetime
    • story-telling through sound,  image and interaction
  • Generativity: Difference and Repetition
    • Algorithm and Reproducibility

If you’ve kept up with my posts so far – you’ll know that my choice was obvious – Multisensory Interaction.

We were then grouped up into teams that also chose that same concept and then given a choice of 3 works to recreate. In our category, the 3 works were…

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Diana Thater, Life is a Time-Based Medium, 2015
haf_20140501_0823
Olifur Eliasson, Your Uncertain Shadow, 2010 
afrum-pale-pink-1968_pacew1
James Turrell, Afrum (1966-67)

We chose to re-create Olifur Eliasson’s Your Uncertain Shadow (2010) – one of two groups to pick this work. It was very interesting to see our different approaches to this work, which I will elaborate on later. Firstly, though, I will outline our process to our final product.

Firstly we had a brief look at the original work and how it was created – by placing different coloured lights in proximity to each other, each of the shadows were a different colour as the shadow blocked the illumination of the other lights. By having multiple lights lined up in a row, multiple shadows are produced, all different colours. Knowing this, our first approach to the work was to borrow about 5 lights from the TO Glen, with different coloured gels (cellophane-like coloured plastic that changes the colour of the light beam). While we were waiting for them, however, we had a quick chat with Matt who suggested we use projectors instead – this appealed to us as another group had chosen the same artwork to recreate – and had been using lights with gels. We settled on 3 projectors (not too large a number so as to disadvantage others in our class) as we had the ability to change their colour at any given time. This gave me an idea.

5
I left the other boys in the group to set up while I ran off to the computer lab to set up something special.

Why settle for a static colour when we could have ALL of the colours?

I had a few hurdles to overcome, mostly being a little rusty with the chosen programs I wanted to use that would help me achieve the vision I had – a loop of a block of colour changing through the entire rainbow spectrum, set to start at different times. But then I thought I could take this even further still. We had 3 projectors – so I could have 3 sets of these spectrums playing at different speeds! This would mean that no 3 colour combinations would be the same for the duration of the 5 minute loop.

Here’s where we get into the really technical stuff behind the project. The idea was now to project the entire colour spectrum animated to different speeds and there for creating many different colour combinations where no two were the same. I decided that the entire spectrum would be shown through one slow, medium and fast speed – 30 seconds, 15 seconds, and 10 seconds respectively. The idea here was that by the time one slow loop was done, two medium speed ones would be finished, and three fast speed ones would play through. I set these to repeat for five minutes, as there is a loading screen between each loop on the Qumi projectors that we used which tended to be quite jarring as we had discovered the first time we set up our projection.

After timing the loops effectively, the next hurdle we had to overcome was the fact that the Qumi projectors apparently didn’t like playing the quicktime format (you’d think that being forced to export into that format through an industry standard program that it would be a little more technology friendly, but alas…) so after a quick chat with Glen he informed me that the computers have a program called Handbrake that can convert quicktime files to the more user-friendly mp4 format. After many trips back and forth and waiting for over 15 minutes for all the projects and loops to render and convert, I finally had something workable. I rushed back to the now empty gallery (I assumed everyone was on break – they were not. Awkward.) and set up the projectors to play the loops.

The last hurdle we encountered was that one of the Qumi projectors just… sort of looked like it was giving up on life. It was dull and faded, and barely visible – which when testing out the result of our work, had a significant impact. I couldn’t show this to the class! So I waited until another group had finished presenting to borrow one of theirs. A quick change and we were ready to present.

Before moving on to the discussion shared with the class, I will show you the final results – I think they looked fantastic!

These images were taken about 30 seconds apart from each other and I love all of them.

I pitched our process to the class for the class discussion. What made this particularly interesting was the comparison to the way the other group tackled the same work. They used a black box (small black soundproof room) with a white screen set up in the center. On the back end they used 2 lights of differing colours, and on the front they used 3 lights. The result was very soft colourful gradients moving into each other with soft shadows. The audience were free to roam on either side of the screen which enhanced the shadow effect and created many different colours. The audience played with the scale of their shadows and even interacted with the audience member on the other side of the screen. It was quite playful and if I could describe the work using one word, it would be ‘soft’.

In comparison, ours felt a lot sharper and the colours much more pronounced. It reminded me of the older ipod ads – or an 80s music video. To me it felt quite psychedelic, and this was something that others picked up on too. It was great to watch the class interact with the work, standing there for 30 seconds on average to observe the different colours that their shadows created. An unexpected effect of layering the rainbows on top of each other with the projectors was that a large rectangle in the center stayed largely white – and acted as sort of a blank canvas to experiment with form and colour. It would have been great to have a camera on a tripod capturing the interactions on this blank canvas through a long exposure photograph.

If I were to revisit this work in the future, I would add 2 more projectors and experiment with each projector not just going through the entire spectrum, but have them change from a gradient of two or three colours exclusively (for example, red to yellow to green, or blue to purple to pink) and overlay those. It would take a lot of experimentation to come up with something that audiences would find very playful to interact with. I really like the idea of the shadow being split up into different colours – it feels like different facets of the self that you are interacting with.

12-years-and-counting-the-amazing-life-of-apples-ipod
One of the promo images from the 12-year-old iPod ads which I felt strongly resonated within this experimental project.

I could see myself incorporating this into my MVP if I were to change from the headset idea – I could place proximity sensors around the room and rig them to play sounds when you come near them. I could use the entire black box space and make the walls white and place multiple projectors and lights around the room to have the shadows reflect on all the walls instead of one. It is definitely something to consider…