This UARTS Faculty Engineering/Arts Student Team (FEAST) will work collaboratively on an experiential artwork based on an interdisciplinary exploration of shadows. Pachikara’s art installations have long involved the novel use of shadow as a tool for interaction. This project aims to expand and hybridize conceptions of shadow from various fields as a way of mining its artistic potential.

From the point of view of language, the connotations of shadow are wide ranging, from “darkness” to “a mere semblance” to “an inseparable companion.” In architecture, when shadow projections augment orthographic drawings, both flat and volumetric conceptions can coexist in a single visualization. Experimental psychology research reveals that the presence of one’s own cast shadow will not only cause the binding between personal and extra personal space but will also automatically and immediately induce a shift of attention towards the body. The emergence of Light Art festivals has spawned various sculptural forms, made from shadow, that has fostered a type of volumetric form with a dematerialized presence.

The goals of the UARTS Faculty Engineering/Arts Student Team (FEAST) will be:

To explore the best ways to represent and model shadows:

  • To depict the enigmatic material presence (and/or absence) of shadows
  • To map shadows’ locations in space and express their motion or directional trajectories relative to stationary as well as moving light sources

To capture and sculpt shadows

  • To explore the contingent behavior of shadow and light when combined with other materials and analyze their material presence
  • To build shadow generators
  • To create instruments to intercept, isolate, and/or record existing shadows and accompanying light phenomena (including reflection, refraction, diffusion) in situ
  • To assemble these recordings into projectable, sensible spatial/sculptural forms

To identify research from experimental psychology, social sciences, and/or neuroscience on the multimodal sensation (visual and proprioceptive) prompted by shadows and the effects of these on selective attention.

  • To use an awareness of natural, multisensory processing to generate new media productions in which the body is the critical technology. In other words, to create immersive art encounters with a minimum of technology: no goggles, no sensors, no computational interfaces except those with which the human body is already equipped.
  • To track visual and spatial attention of visitors to shadow installations
  • To explore the mutual interests between the sensory sciences and contemporary art practice

To gather examples of the connotative and denotative meanings of shadows from both literature, theatre, and the visual arts

  • To create typologies of shadows from these uses as a way of analyzing their potential
  • To create visual typologies of shadows as employed in contemporary creative works
  • To use these typologies to imagine hybrid manifestations of shadow

While team members will begin with discreet tasks as part of the larger research project, in progress outcomes will be regularly presented and the opportunities for hybridization will be collectively considered. As the project progresses, these possible overlaps and intersections will be used to generate images, objects, proposal drawings, and models for future immersive works.

One member will be responsible for assisting Pachikara in the collection, documentation, and archiving of the ongoing activities of the team and compiling them into an document, a copy of which will be given to each team member at the close of their participation in the project.

Meeting Details
Fridays, 10am-1pm
Art and Architecture Building (and on occasion:  Faculty/Graduate studios on North Campus)
Modality: In person and remotely
(interested in the project but unable to be on campus? Contact us to inquire!)

Students apply to a specific role on team as follows:

Fabrication: 3D Design, Model making, and Prototyping of Camera Rigs, Screens, Light and Shadow Lamps (3 Students)

Preferred Skills: CAD (computer-aided design), CAM (computer-aided manufacturing), 3D modeling software such as AutoCAD, Rhino or Fusion 360, experience with laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC, additive and subtractive fabrication

Likely Majors/Minors: ARCH, ARTDES, ME, MSE, PAT, THTREMUS

Visualization: 2D Illustration, 3D Modeling, Conceptual Drawing (2 Students)

Preferred Skills: Spatial and material renderings, conceptual drawing with photo montage and film stills, Adobe CC, Rhino, AutoCAD, Fusion 360, SketchUp, Podium, V-Ray, Revit

Likely Majors/Minors: ARCH, ARTDES, ME, MSE, PAT

Videography & Photography (2 Students)

Preferred Skills: Video and digital photography camera skills, editing with Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, and/or AVID, experience using and/or constructing camera rigs

Likely Majors/Minors: ARCH, ARTDES, FTVM, PAT

Research Assistants (Art History, Visual Arts, and Literature) (3 Students)

Preferred Skills: Gathering precedent projects, from the visual and performing arts and literature, that make creative use of shadows.  Categorizing projects in a visual format, such as a visual typology or index. Use of Adobe CC recommended.


Research Assistants (Psychology, Social Science, and Neuroscience) (2 Students)

Preferred Skills: Student 1: Gathering precedent scientific studies on shadows as related to visual/spatial perception; Student 2: Experience with eye tracking and movement tracking hardware and software and ability to generate attention maps based on spectators’ reactions to objects, images, and spaces.


Faculty Project Lead

Trained in architecture, sculpture, and dance Cynthia Pachikara explores the interplay between vision, movement, and spatial perception. In her “shadow installations” visitors unwittingly encounter cinematic imagery where none should be: inside the space of their own familiar, and engaged shadows. Conceived as spatial riddles, these installations visualize the notion of the body-as-screen and address the social contingency of the audience’s gaze. Spectatorship plays an important role in the construction of this work. The daughter of immigrants, Cynthia Pachikara uses phenomenological frameworks to imagine how separation from, remembrance of, and longing for distant landscapes can be experienced in art. She was trained in architecture and sculpture at the University of Illinois when the MOSAIC web browser was first introduced. Since then, she has examined the thresholds between physical and virtual environments created installations and sculptures that blur the boundaries between both.

Critics have described Pachikara’s works in terms of bodily experiences:

“To watch your own outline suddenly fill with pictures briefly creates the sensation of your own body actually dematerializing, of being neither here nor there…” – Randy Gragg, Oregonian (Portland, OR)

“Wherever the spectator moves, there is a disruption and then a ‘leaking’ out of another story, another image.” Robert Gero, Exhibition Essay, Gallery 210, (St. Louis, MO)

“Memory and identity here seem equally evanescent, caught in the oscillations of presence and absence.” Douglas Utter, Cleveland Free Times (Cleveland, OH) –

“Cynthia Pachikara has delivered an intense, compressed and possibly interminable experience.” Michael Weinstein, New City Newspaper (Chicago, IL) –

Currently Pachikara is exploring how scientific research on multimodal spatial perception can inspire artistic production strategies for natural, immersive art encounters with a minimum of technology: no goggles, no sensors, no computational interfaces except those with which the human body is already equipped. She is exploring ways that experimental psychology and neuroscience research can inform new media works in which the body of the spectator is the critical technology.

Concurrently, in a project entitled Light Cities, Pachikara has been developing tools and techniques to distill the light along urban passageways to understand how movement-through-illumination shapes geographic identity. The approach involves designing and mobilizing large-scale, camera + screen systems along common thoroughfares to collide with environmental light, mid-flight, as residents do. Thus, rather than framing up scenes bathed in light, her camera follows the light as it moves through a location: after has bounced off of, or is otherwise filtered by, by the built environment. The recorded reflections, refractions and shadows embody reliable inferences about their source sites, while also presenting an unambiguous separation from them. This footage is being collected for use in future shadow installation.

Pachikara has presented her work nationally and internationally in galleries, public spaces, and symposia. Her essays about installation art have been published in Metalsmith Magazine and in Forward, the Design Journal of the American Institute of Architects. She has received major grants for her studio research. She taught previously at Purdue University, Reed College, the Pacific Northwest College of Art, and Washington University in St. Louis. Pachikara is currently an Associate Professor in the Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan and holds a courtesy appointment in the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning where she taught for 10 years.

Students: 12


Meeting Details: Fridays, 10am-1pm, Art and Architecture Building (and on occasion: Faculty/Graduate studios on North Campus)

Application: This project requires applicants to include link(s) to your portfolio, work samples, or other website(s) in the personal statement portion of your application to share work you would like considered as part of your submission.

Summer Opportunity: Summer research fellowships may be available for qualifying students.

Citizenship Requirements: This project is open to all students on campus.

IP/NDA: Students who successfully match to this project team will be required to sign an Intellectual Property (IP) Agreement prior to participation.

Course Substitutions: CoE Honors