Inter-species collaboration – artistic collaborations with living creatures.

Think Evolution #1: Kiku-ishi (Ammonite) is a moving-image work created by the media-design artist Aki Inomata in 2016–17. Think Evolution #1 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 Inomata's participation in an exhibition at the French Embassy in Tokyo in 2009, titled No man’s land. 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.

This is an extract from AGSA Magazine, Issue 39, Winter 2020. Russell Kelty is the Assistant Curator of Asian Art at AGSA.

What is an ammonite?

Ammonites once inhabited a shell and are a distant and now extinct relative of sea creatures such as the octopus and squid.

  • Name two words you associate with the ocean and octopus. Collate all the words from other members of the class on a large sheet of paper. Are there similar or opposing descriptions?
  • Aki Inomata creates works of art in collaboration with living creatures, exploring the relationship between animals and humans. What do you think she is trying to say about this relationship?
  • Discuss the differences between a natural and urban environment. What is the role of each and how does one relate to the other?
  • Through the process of 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. List some places humans go for protection. How have these places changed over time? Where is a place you feel most safe?
  • Inomata questions our relationship with animals – wondering ‘why is it accepted to have a dog as a pet but not a bagworm‘. What are acceptable and not acceptable pets in Australia? What might be the reasons for this?

Observing animals, learning about their habits and ecosystems is an important part of Inomata’s work. Observe your pet or an animal in your school environment – you could also use videos of marine life in nature documentaries if you do not have an animal at home or can't locate one in the wild.

Look closely at this creature. How does it move or interact with other animals, humans or its environment? What things surprised you?Imagine you are a scientist encountering this creature for the first time. Film your animal. Write a voiceover to accompany the footage describing the animal’s behaviours.

Undertake the same exercise but of a family member in your household. How would you describe the movements of your mum, dad or sibling? Remember: they may not want to be filmed so you will need to be creative in the way you describe your observations.

  • Write a story about the life and adventures of the octopus in Evolution #1.
  • Watch the way an octopus or other sea creatures move. Use your body to move like different sea creatures.
  • Inomata is interested in the relationship between humans and animals. Is there an animal or perhaps an environment that you feel a strong connection to? Create a work of art that celebrates this relationship.
  • Investigate an endangered marine creature. How has this animal evolved over time? What changes to its environment have threatened its existence? Design and create a prototype home for this animal. How does your structure protect it from predators or human activity? What action can we take to ensure this animal does not become extinct?
  • Create a performative, interactive, video or multimedia work of art that suggests the benefits of interacting with other species or highlight the importance of the natural world in the 21st century despite technological advancements.

Learn more about inter-species collaborations

Research other artists who collaborate with living creatures. See our education resource on Mike Bianco who is deeply fascinated by ecology and sustainability. Bianco’s installations tend to engage audiences one-on-one and prompts them to think about their place within nature.

Although Bianco is concerned by global issues of climate crisis, he is not interested in using doom or fear to scare people into change. Rather, his tender performances and minimal installations offer radically new ways to think about inter-species dependency – our relationships to the plants and animals we live amongst. His works propose solutions and innovative methods for communing with the ecological systems we depend upon.