The space in between

The National Gallery in London is currently exhibiting a selection of Caravaggio’s paintings. The exhibition includes also those that imitated Caravaggio’s style. As I was given the space to compare Caravaggio’s work to his followers I understood which is the factor that glues me in front of any Caravaggio’s work: “the space in between”. When I stop in front of any of his work I have the feeling that the painting is meant to fill the space between myself and the canvas. The scene looks as a suspended action, not a frame, but something that is meant to continue . A looping tableau vivant that never gets completed and it is open to a plethora of interpretations. The way light, colours, characters are composed together makes the scene extend beyond the space of the canvas; time and the subject become relative. The space in between doesn’t have any shape; it is an intimate place that each viewer can design through observation. The space transcends any subject, wether religious or mythological. The subject is the pretest of a superficial interpretation; once indeed the subject disappears, the tension of the space in between bounds the viewer to the painting. The tension is made of different factors: light, position of the character, emergence of part of the scene that hides others, etc.  The effect of the painting reaches my senses without any specific reason. The ability of the painter consists indeed in the creation of a suspended place that leaves any viewer the freedom of interpretation. Caravaggio must have been a good observer of street dwellers. His characters’ eyes, facial expressions and body’s posture are his language through which he designs theatrical scenes of chiaroscuros. I suppose that the universality that Caravaggio’s paintings give to any society is given by the freedom each of us has to imagine what we see in it, without any guideline. When visiting the exhibition try to have a go without audio guides!

What is real Reality? AI might tell us

Last year I went to the National Gallery in London to see Francisco Goya’s exhibition. I did enjoy the painter’s mastery on giving human character to his portraits by balancing the relationship between the background, often solid colour, and the subject. Goya doesn’t draw a border between the two; he blurs the boundary so that the subject emerges from the background. Such simple operation gives a sense of the character’s personality; the balance of colours – and chiaroscuro – that gradually progress from the background to the the face and the body returns to me (the interpreter) the experience of the subjects’s personality.

Current research on AI is moving towards giving machines a sense of space, by teaching them what is space (as we do). Through Deep Learning machines are growing the sense of reality. They are developing a form of knowledge that is capable of understanding objects in real space, by means of image pixelation. In this article from MIT Technology Review it is described how machines are capable to detect physical objects via digital images; pixelation is the language they employ. The differential between the background and the given object is indeed in the focus of attention. On the opposite of the poetic skill Goya used to give a sense of the subject’s personality, the understanding of “border” is the key element used to teach machines space. The intention is to teach machines to “see”, and I suppose think, like us. Digital image pixelation is the vehicle that machines use to understand the real as we do.

What is the real?

Quoting Slavoj Žižek’s:Every field of “reality” is always-ready enframed, seen through an invisible frame. The parallax is not symmetrical, composed of two incompatible perspectives of the same X: there is an irreducible asymmetry between the two perspectives, a minimal reflexive twist. We do have two perspectives, we have a perspecive and what eludes it, and the other perspectives fills in this void of what we could not see from the first perspective“.

In other words we, human, don’t see things as our eyes do. There is a gap in between that constructs our sense of the real. As quoted from Žižek, there is a void in between that we fill with our imagination. Imagination is a form of expectation of the real, which is linked to our past experience that, in our mind, has been stored in the form of memory.

How can such a random and complex fluctuation be translated to a machine? What we call “real” is nonetheless a specific frame of our perception, which doesn’t make any distinction between digital and physical, as everything gets stored in our mind in the form of experience. It kinds of makes me think back to the Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, which machines desperately need pictures to be acknowledged as humans.


Žižek, Slavoj (2006), The Parallax View, Cambridge MA: MIT Press