A photo exhibit of Aki Inomata's hermit crab homes

Aki Inomata is an artist, designer and 3D printing enthusiast. She's found an unusual way to combine her love of printing with her passion for art; she prints detailed crystalline houses for hermit crabs. Aki said she was inspired to start the project when she visited a "No Man's Land" exhibition that was held in the French Embassy in Japan in 2009. The exhibit chronicled the history of a piece of land that has been repeatedly (and peacefully) traded back and forth between Japan and France.

"The same piece of land is peacefully transferred from one country to the other. These kinds of things take place without our being aware of it," Aki said on her website. "On the other hand, similar events are not unrelated to us as individuals. For example, acquiring nationality, moving, and migration."

To Aki, hermit crabs represent the epitome of that philosophy. They trade shells (homes) frequently throughout their lifetime and Aki wondered if the crabs would accept 3D printed shells designed to look like landmarks from different countries. As it turns out, the crabs had no problem with the decorative shells and Aki ended up with a living representation of national migration.

"The hermit crabs wearing the shelters I built for them, which imitate the architecture of various countries, appeared to be crossing various national borders. Though the body of the hermit crab is the same, according to the shell it is wearing, its appearance changes completely. It's as if they were asking, "Who are you?" Aki said.

You can take a look at a video of one of Aki's crabs in its new 3D printed home here:

Artists are finding all sorts of unusual ways to incorporate 3D printing into their work. Stephanie Smith and Bryan Allen are working to produce the largest-scale 3D printed sculpture to date in the wilds of Northern California. UK artist Claire Goddard is 3D printing with paper and speculative designer Susana Soares is printing edible sculptures made from insect flour.