Negative Space in the 'House
How Caroline Is the Vase
By Susan Quilty
An image shifts before your eyes, teasing possibilities at the
edge of your grasp. This subtle experience, this tug at your
awareness that is simultaneously provoking and oddly satisfying,
occurs whenever you look at an optical illusion. In Joss
Whedon’s Dollhouse, personality becomes the optical illusion.
On the surface, this action-adventure series could be marketed
simply as a vehicle for beautiful people acting out fantasies
weekly, under the control of a corrupt corporate Big Bad. Yet
throughout this dystopian, edge-of-the-apocalypse narrative,
the question looms: What constitutes personality? Is personality
more than basic identity? More than a collection of memories?
Can the total personality–the entire sense of self–really be
removed and replaced at whim? Or does some unique piece of
self remain in the body?
In Rubin’s vase, a classic optical illusion, the simple blackand-
white image presents two faces looking at each other in
silhouette, and a vase (or chalice) between them. At first glance,
you might notice either the vase or the twin faces. But once you
notice the other, your eyes begin to shift between the two and
you wonder which is the intentional object. Is this a picture of a
vase? Or is it a picture of two faces? Truthfully, it is both at the
same time. Neither exists without the other. It is only the shifting
of your focus from one image to the other that makes one
the central object and the other its negative space.
In the study of art, negative space is defined …