Russell Kelty introduces Aki Inomata to the AGSA Collection

Over the past five years the Art Gallery of South Australia has developed a small but spectacular contemporary Japanese art collection, the most recent addition being Think Evolution #1: Kiku-ishi (Ammonite), a moving-image work created by the media-design artist Aki Inomata in 2016–17. Think Evolution #1 continues the artist’s chosen creative process, an approach that encompasses inter-species collaboration – artistic collaborations with living creatures. Through these collaborations Inomata uses humour to question the realities of life on earth. Think Evolution #1 depicts an octopus’s encounter with a resin cast of an ammonite shell. Over the process of its evolution the octopus discarded its shell, but the creature still possesses an instinct to inhabit empty vessels, such as coconut shells and bivalves, for protection. According to the fossil record, the ammonite, a distant relative of the octopus and squid, also once inhabited a shell. Inspired by this evolutionary story, Inomata created an experiment during which she placed an octopus in a tank with an ammonite shell cast in resin.

The inspiration for Think Evolution #1: Kiku-ishi (Ammonite) resulted from her participation in an exhibition at the French Embassy in Tokyo in 2009, titled No man’s land, shortly after she had graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in inter-media art from Tokyo University of the Arts. The exhibition was inspired by the revolving fifty-year lease of the land on which the French Embassy stands. In 2009 this parcel of land was returned to the Japanese Government, which will retain it until 2059, at which time it will go back to the French Government for a further fifty years. The absurdity of this agreement inspired the creation of Why Not Hand Over a ‘Shelter’ to Hermit Crabs?, 2009, which examined the hermit crabs’ peaceable exchange of shells as they grow. Inomata believes this phenomenon represents a metaphor for the peaceful exchange of land between countries. For this work Inomata designed new shells or shelters in the shape of iconic architectural sites to provide new homes for her crabs.

Aki Inomata is currently a lecturer at Tama Art University and a visiting researcher at Waseda University. She has exhibited widely in Japan and around the world. In late 2019 Inomata presented her first solo exhibition in Japan at the the Towada Art Center in Aomori prefecture. The exhibition title, Significant Otherness, is a nod to the American science historian Donna Haraway (born 1944) and her proposal for a new form of human relationship – with other species on earth. The exhibition featured works made as a result of Inomata’s observations of clams after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and highlights non-human perspectives.

Russell is Associate Curator of Asian Art at AGSA. This article first appeared in AGSA Magazine Issue 39.