On Dollhouse

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 as the area around and between parts of an object. It is what isn’t there. Look at some of the objects around you. A  …

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