Memory of Currency


Apr 13 (Tue.) - May 22 (Sat.), 2021

Maho Kubota Gallery is proud to present Memory of Currency, a solo exhibition by Aki Inomata, opening on April 13, 2021. Contemporary artist Aki Inomata is known for her creative collaborations with animals. She exhibits worldwide, with recent solo exhibitions at Musée d’arts de Nantes in France in 2018 and at Towada Arts Center and Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art in Japan in 2019, as well as taking part in the Broken Nature exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2020–2021). One of the characteristics of Inomata’s art is how it reveals the plasticity of our world by reinterpreting relationships between people and non-human species and transformations in living organisms over history.

The project Memory of Currency, which Inomata has been working on in the last few years, and which is also the name of this exhibition, is an attempt to create money fossils—links between modern currencies and seashells, which were used as currency before modern times. Inomata inserts a small nucleus—a foreign body—into a pearl oyster’s shell.
Each nucleus is modeled on the portrait of a person used as a symbol on national currency, such as George Washington, Queen Elizabeth, or Yukichi Fukuzawa, Inside the shell, the oyster covers the portrait with nacre, creating a pearl in the shape of the individual. This exhibition presents nacre-covered portraits that the oysters produced, along with videos and photographs. The gallery installation is evocative of being in the ocean. The fusing of currency (manmade) with oysters (non-manmade) results in the emergence of a new kind of currency that is inseparable from a natural species. It leaves us contemplating the possibility that these works could one day be rediscovered as fossils by future humans. This solo exhibition offers an opportunity to experience the new world that has emerged from Aki Inomata’s imagination.


When I exchanged money at the airport on returning to Japan and held Japanese banknotes in my hand for the first time in ages, the bills triggered a sense of nostalgia, and felt incredibly ancient. I giggled, imagining for a moment how we are handling relics from antiquity. These days, I pay for most things with tap-to-pay or credit cards instead of cash. The bills that I got from the currency exchange made themselves at home in my wallet and lay there for some time, unused. They bore portraits of Yukichi Fukuzawa, one of the founders of modern-day Japan.

Later, I got the idea of creating a money fossil. My thoughts on the day when I crossed the national border and exchanged money may have been the trigger. I made portrait shapes modeled on the portraits on banknotes, and placed each inside an oyster’s shell as a nucleus—a foreign body. Since ancient times, people have worked seashells into ornaments, and there is a history of trading with shell money. After putting the banknote portraits into the oysters, I returned them to the sea. Through these actions, I was both engaging in a historical exploration of currency and reflecting on the existence of living organisms.

The essence of currency is its role as transferable credit. Banknotes are trusted as a country’s currency, and the portraits on them are symbolic of the nation. No one really knows how long this system will last. It may be that our currency systems have already become too complex for humans to fully comprehend.

Aki Inomata
(text for the exhibition)