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



Week 1 Blog Post – Defining My Practice and Expanding My Field.

I find it hard to limit myself to one field of practice. This is evident through the degree changes I’ve made in the past, and even now, with my double major in Photography and Digital Media and Communications. This explains it all really: I dabble in photography, as well as creating an assortment of digital content, as well as maintaining an assortment of different social media profiles for both my personal business and my gaming ‘habit’ (which I really count as content creating). I also like to expand some of my work to include bits and pieces of animation, design, filming and editing in addition to photography. I would one day love to explore the world of virtual or augmented reality, too. So if I were to really put it down to five key words or phrases, it would be the following:

Photography; animation; design; film; editing.

However that just scratches the surface of what I’d like to do. I consider myself a bit of a creative all-rounder. This is me now. However, during today’s exercises, what I’d like to do over the semester paints a very different picture. There is almost a completely different set of key words here:

Media Arts; photography; manipulation; installation; sensory.

Ideally, I want to always be expanding my skill set so that I can continue having being a bit of an all rounder – as I am to understand it, having lots of different skills is a benefit to many job positions as it encourages creative problem solving and can be a great management tool to connect with peers who specialise in these areas.

My “mind map” from today’s exercise – very messy, and no where near resembling an actual mind map.

Seeing as I’m not limiting myself to just one field of practise, there are many many skills that I wish to have – I don’t intend on mastering all of them however; I believe in diversity and I would always like to keep myself open for opportunities to learn more. For the sake of this exercise though, I will limit myself to exploring a few skills that I may need for the second set of keywords – the ones that I aim to work on this semester.

I would, for example, like to learn a little more about the After Effects and Premiere Pro Adobe programs, so that I may make my content creation (specifically videos) a little more polished. I have begun to dabble into Illustrator a little bit, which is essential for some design aspects. I already know quite a bit about Lightroom and Photoshop as I have been using those for editing photographs for quite a few years. I would also like to look into learning more about Google Sketchup – a sort of program where you can build and render objects or scenes in 3D which would be great for working on installation concepts. In terms of the sensory aspect – I would need to do more research on sound production. I do know a bit about sound – however my skill set in that regard is also quite limited. I would also like to dabble into learning more about psychology and ways to evoke certain responses in people through a range of different ways, as I’d like my installations to be a multi-sensory experience; which may effect hearing, sight, touch and even smell (though I think I’ll steer away from taste for now).

I am not the first to appeal to multiple senses and construct my installations to evoke a certain response in people. Installations are a great way to interact with an audience and invite them to explore a space, perhaps even touch or feel objects, and get really close to details. This is something that I hope to achieve. One such example would be the “Google Train” (real title: The Other Side), which I had the privilege of experiencing myself in 2014’s Sydney Biennale. I’d like to look at this work a little more closely as a research point in the future.

The entrance to the work, The Other Side (2014) Image retrieved from the Biennale Website.

I feel like I’ve pretty much got my thoughts out for today – and I risk rambling (which I’d rather avoid). I will elaborate and further develop some concepts however in future posts, while I brainstorm ways to move forward with the semester.

Of Practice and Craft; of Entrepeneurs, Amateurs, and professionals; and, a post-mortem.

This will be quite the substantial post to launch off this semester’s foray into the subject of MEDA302. My mind is currently bouncing from topic to topic, perhaps due to the staggering amount of red cordial I have consumed to get me through today; so forgive me if my thoughts do not spew forth coherently.

I walked into MEDA302’s first class of the semester with a sense of renewed hope and purpose, and to set me on the path forward, our task for the week was several lists of questions. For convenience I will sort them by their subject matter and include the question itself instead of just blithering on. I feel this is more for myself to keep focussed. I am digressing already – so let’s just get into it.

Entrepreneurs and Amateurs; Practices and Crafts:

Expectations for the Semester:

We have read the subject outcomes, but what are the outcomes you are aiming for in this subject?

Personally I just want to make it through to the end. I have had a bad run with health and life that has gotten in the way. This semester I am determined not to be a victim of my circumstance, and actually have something tangible to show for it. And not only that, but to actually do bloody well at it as well!

I have a lot of projects in mind to work on, and I am rather excited to see them on display at the end of the semester.

How can this subject help you substantiate your learning in your chosen practice or field/major of study?

It would only make sense for me to work on an area in which I would want to improve. Currently my ‘practice’ is somewhat one-dimensional; digital photography. In the past I have worked with Arduino, lasers, interactive displays – however my resources since moving away from home have been somewhat limited. Last semester I continued on this one dimensional path, however this semester I intend on branching out a little. I have recently been experimenting with textiles, knitting and crocheting, and I would love to incorporate that into my work somehow. I know of many artists who have done the same, one outrageously so. I may write on this later on should I choose to pursue a textile-oriented project.

How can it extend your learning and your practice into professional life?

It wasn’t until over the holiday break when I had a chance to rethink my entire direction on life did I actually manage to find a solid path to follow. I had previously only wanted to pursue photography through my own business, and get a boring 9-5 job during the week. However, I now have higher goals to some day be a creative director in the long term. I feel this subject, with it’s focus on practice, will enable me to channel my creative thinking into something to display and to curate, which will be an invaluable skill in the future.

Practice and Craft:

What is your practice?

If I were to say I was in the practice of anything, the one thing that pops to mind currently is a photographer. That is my main medium, it is what I do to earn money, it is what I do for fun.

What is your Craft?

If I were to describe my practice as a craft, I would further go on to say that I engage in macro still life and nature photography, small-scale landscape photography, and general portraiture.

What elements of your practice would you like to develop during MEDA302?

Over the holidays I began expanding upon my practices and I would like to encompass broader mediums. Whether that be with working with film, or more traditional media, or even incorporating my knitting into my work, will be decided when I can flesh out a concept to be excited about.

What elements of craft would you like to develop/practice/learn during 302?

In able to get where I want to be with the aforementioned practice development, I would like to expand the styles of photography that I am comfortable with. This may mean undertaking photoshoots with models of different genres than I am currently comfortable with and breaking down the barriers that I have tied myself to for conventional production.

Additionally, I would like to continue developing my textiles work. The more I write about it the more I would actually like to find a way to combine these two elements together for my major project this semester.

Fiona Hall is one such artist who mixes media and uses textile knowledge to create works.



What is your motivation? What motivates you to keep at this practice?

My motivations are simple. I want a good life. I want a good job. I want to move to Melbourne and incorporate myself into the rich fabric of media entrepreneurial and professional scenes down there. I find it very exciting and it is something I would like to work towards. I never again want to be stuck working 35 hours a week in a job that stifles creativity to go home to someone who never appreciated the sacrifices I made.

Are you pursuing a ‘love for’ something? What is that something that you are pursuing for the ‘love for’?

I have been stuck in a job that I had absolutely no passion for. After leaving behind a somewhat toxic life I have discovered (and I am still discovering) love for creative outlets. I had previously picked up photography as a very easy way to express myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love taking pictures – but at the moment they are just that. Aesthetics. I want to dedicate myself to my craft and develop my practice into something that actually means so much more than, ‘ooh, a pretty flower!’. I love my art. I love to create. I love to produce work. So yes, I am pursuing a ‘love for’ something; and in the process, giving it meaning.

Feature picture related: a recent photoshoot I did to expand my stylistic approach to photography.

A Post-Mortem analysis:

The scope of answers I can provide for this section are somewhat limited. I didn’t have much input into my group’s final project other than dropping some suggestions and knowledge, as well as advice on how to pursue the project that was had in mind. Due to time and budget constraints, the final project ended up being very very different to what the groupmates had in mind. I do feel partially responsible for the direction it went, and I am unsure that my groupmates were particularly happy with the results. But regardless of that, I do believe the project itself had potential.

MEDA301 final project:

What Aspects of the work functioned well? What are the reasons you think the aspects work? What is your evidence?

Our project ended up being an exploration of colour and screen interactivity – a look into the science of how monitors and screens produce colour by using an additive colour technique. Basically, when you add more light as colours, the colours would overlap and produce different colours. The work itself was 3 projectors aimed at a white wall, each projecting a colour which progressed through the RGB colour cycle.

It was a very shallow production at its core but worked brilliantly. The projections mimicked what actually happens through TV screens and LCD monitors quite well, and it showed. When colours overlapped, other colours were produced successfully as hypothesized.

Are there aspects in the project that can be extended or taken further? If so, how? Why were these aspects not developed?

I feel this project has a lot of great potential for expansion. More exploration on the way colour interacts would be great, as well as the addition of how colour subtraction techniques (ie. through the use of colour filters) would impact the projections would be quite interesting. Making the project a little more interactive and adding a few more shapes and perhaps even some more animation would be something to work on as well.

If it is the end of the road, why?

I feel it is not my place to take over a project that I had so little contribution to. I was more an advisor to the process than actually participating in the work’s creation. I would love to see an expansion to the project, however I will not be undertaking it myself.

What were the decisions made that may have impacted on the work?

Initially the project was going to be much, much different. The group wanted to create a drawing machine however quickly found that time and budget constraints made it impossible to do by the end of the semester. When the idea was change to investigate the way LED screens worked, I feel a part of my research on the difference between additive and subtractive colour sciences had a major impact on the direction of the project, as the science of colour management through screens would not allow the second iteration of the project to be possible either.

Entrepreneur and Amateur:

Expectations for the Semester:

To recap from earlier, and to finish up this blog post, here the answers I would have had for a ‘speed-dating’ activity during class that never came to fruition. However I feel it valuable I write my thoughts down should the opportunity come up again.

We have read the subject outcomes, but what are the outcomes you are aiming for in this subject?

To create something tangible and impressive for display at the end of the semester, a project that I will be able to keep and take with me throughout my career.

How can this subject help you substantiate your learning in your chosen practice or field/major of study?

By setting a goal to work with my mediums of craft I can produce a work that aligns with my chosen practice and also give me the skills to expand my studies and beyond.

How can it extend your learning and your practice into professional life?

Simply put, the skills I develop (and have developed all through uni) will directly impact the path I take beyond university. For the job I want in the future I need a broader ‘bank’ of knowledge and skills to be considered a viable candidate.

How would you have done this differently?

My biggest regret is not knowing my direction sooner. If I had known what I wanted to do after graduation I would have had more time to develop relevant skills and knowledge, as well as more of a drive to succeed and do as well as I can.

Stills from the final project. Credit: Emily Gegg