More on Shadows


In his essay In Praise of Shadows Japanese novelist Tanizaki writes about the conflict between western and eastern aesthetics in the modern world. He says that Japanese 'find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.' He emphasizes beauty in subtlety and that which cannot be seen too clearly, leaving some of the experience to our imagination. Pallasmaa talks of something similar when he emphasizes the importance and intimacy of darkness:

The eye is the organ of distance and separation, whereas touch is the sense of nearness, intimacy and affection. The eye surveys, controls and investigates, whereas touch approaches and caresses. During overpowering emotional experiences, we tend to close off the distancing sense of vision; we close our eyes when dreaming, listening to music, or caressing our beloved ones. Deep shadows and darkness are essential, because they dim the sharpness of vision, make depth and distance ambiguous, and invite unconscious peripheral vision and tactile fantasy. (Pallasmaa, 1996, p.46).

Pallasmaa continues to say that bright lights kill our imagination whereas twilight, dimly lit spaces and foggy scenes spark our sense of mystery, the mystical and mythological. Tanizaki also mentions this sense of tranquility and calm in shadows, that which separates the inside from the outside:

Whenever I see the alcove of a tastefully built Japanese room, I marvel at our comprehension of the secrets of shadows, our sensitive use of shadow and light. For the beauty of the alcove is not the work of some clever device. An empty space is marked off with plain wood and plain walls, so that the light drawn into its forms dim shadows within emptiness. There is nothing more. And yet, when we gaze into the darkness that gathers behind the crossbeam, around the flower vase, beneath the shelves, though we know perfectly well it is mere shadow, we are overcome with the feeling that in this small corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence; that here in the darkness immutable tranquility holds sway. (Tanizaki, 1977).

In my work there is a combination of bright light that hurts the eye and multiple shadows. Parts of the space are brighter and dimmer than others. The views of the city begin with twilight, continue to sunset and then cycle back to twilight in an endless loop. Various kind of shadows are present in the work, those that are glaring and sharp and others that are subtle and noticeable only after an amount of time spent in the space. Due to a feedback loop dim mirror versions of yourself are also visible in the walls, each a mere second after the next. The overall effect is an experience which is disconcerting as you see several shadows of yourself, the other in the walls on either side. Despite bright lights the audience cannot see the entire work because the city is fragmented with shadows. The gaps and shadows leave the final interpretation up to the audience themselves. It is an experience which aims to express the inner conflict of the city, which I call Mumbai.

Reference: Pallasmaa, J. (1996). Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses. John Wiley & Sons: UK. Sowin, J. (2006). In Praise of Shadows: A Meditation. [online]. Available from: [Accessed 17th August 2011]. Tanizaki, J. (1977). In Praise of Shadows. Leete's Island Books: USA