Almost exactly one year ago, we covered Japanese artist Aki Inomata’s fascinating project to 3D print hermit crab shells in the forms of various iconic skylines. Those tiny crawling cityscapes, printed in clear plastic, provided complete shells for the crabs and gave them elegant exoskeletons which I can only imagine made them the envy of the hermit crab social scene.
In the time since then, Inomata has created a new shell habitat for her beloved crustaceans, this time in the form of a Japanese wedding chapel. This is more than just another whimsical creation, however. In this design, she questions the relationship between colonization and ownership that she sees as part of the relationship between Japanese culture and its Western counterpart.
While Christianity is a decidedly minority religion in Japan, the majority of contemporary weddings are held in chapels which are designed based on an agglomeration of ideas of Christian-esque architecture. This combination of imagery, aesthetics, and structure has fascinated Inomata as she travels around the world.
“When I visit western countries, I sometimes notice the origin of archtecture (sic), habits, foods, etc… in Japan, they would be transformed into local styles, and I ask myself, ‘are we Japanese living in a mimicry of western world?’ For me, these imitations, or I would say reproductions or rearrangements, of Western-style architecture, seem to reflect identities of post-colonialism inside of the Japanese people,” says Inomata.
This type of relationship between cultures is not a one-way street. A visit to home stores such as Pier One or Crate & Barrel reveals a wide array of borrowed styles pushed together into pieces that are considered “Japanese” or “Asian.” This type of fusion is also found in food, fashion, and philosophies (forgive me for the incomplete alliteration) as well as throughout history. The Romans cannibalized Greek forms as was convenient and morphed them into something considered Greek while it would never have been recognized by the Greeks as such.
The hermit crab is a particularly fitting creature with which to do such explorations as it is a soft naked creature that requires an external shell to protects itself and will colonize the abandoned shells left behind by their larger cousins. This particular shell is part of a series ‘Why Not Hand Over a Shelter to Hermit Crabs.’
The question is: are they merely colonizing a derivative form or are they truly their shell’s author since each wears it individually?
The answer: They are hermit crabs and not bothered by such ridiculous existential self-doubt.
Humans, however, are endlessly fascinated with their identities and as Western-style culture becomes popularly practiced around the world, people living in places outside of what is considered to be the birthplace of such culture often question the authenticity of their own creations and the subject/object relationships embodied in such hybrids. The very idea of purity is, of course, elusive as humanity’s one instinct seems to be adaptation.
The video of the hermit crab doing its crabby thing while in the crystalline wedding chapel is fairly zen in and of itself. The crab simply moves along with its beautiful symbol of loving union among two creatures that serves to protect it from the glancing blows of spatial navigation. Rather than asking itself questions, the crab is unwittingly communicating an important message to all of us:
Whatever shell you wear, do it naturally and you can’t help but be beautiful.
Join the conversation about Inomata’s creations in the 3D Printed Chapel Hermit Crab Shell forum thread over at 3DPB.com.