skip to content


Imagining with Shadows. Tracing Imagination in the Folds of Reality.

Shadows have been studied mostly (if not exclusively) as visual elements of the real. Psychologists have focused on the role of shadows for object recognition in human infants, in children with autism, and in Japanese macaques. Philosophers like Casati and Cavanagh have investigated the riddles of shadows as 'revealing' of the nature (and problems) of visual experience. Thus, many scholars have focused on the role that shadows play in our experience of reality, for example, for recognizing the shape, position or trajectory of objects. This project explores a different path by investigating the human capacity to use shadows as imaginary entities. Drawing concrete examples from mundane experience and cultural artefacts (e.g. cave art, shadow play), the research will consider how humans see in shadows more than what there is 'in the real', and therefore, how their 'ephemeral' nature is used as a way into imaginary worlds. In so doing, the project explores the potential of the problem of shadows for a renewed approach to imagination, interpreted as a concrete practice, i.e. embedded in ecological and cultural contexts, intertwined with emotions, and realized in different ways. The research is oriented by the following questions: -What perceptual possibilities' trigger' the imaginary potential of shadows? -What role do emotions play in creating the 'right atmosphere' for playing with shadows? And what kind of emotions are triggered or transformed by shadows? -In what different ways can humans play with shadows? How and when do (or did) humans learn to play with shadows? What insights can we obtain from history, prehistory or ethnology, or from observing the behaviour of children, primates or other animals? -What can pathological cases (e.g. mental illness) tell us about our imaginative engagement with shadows and their implications and possible use in concrete contexts?    

Fabio Tommy Pellizzer