3 ottobre 2010
"That Mental Encounter between Science and Art"
Stefano Sandrelli
Director of Public Education & Programs
INAF - Brera Astronomical Observatory

The question of what is art has always been hotly debated. Certainly one of the principal gifts that art offers us is fiction, in the etymological sense of the term: to ‘form’ or ‘simulate’. Thus it presents a deformed, moulded vision of reality. The artist, in this sense, is a demiurge who chooses the world to model and how to model it.
For its part science was born and has established itself with a purely cognitive function. It delegates the instrumental function to technology, the demiurgic one to politics and economics.

So it is striking to see, in Renzo Bergamo, the tendency to reproduce his own vision of the cosmos with forms, colours and structures that would be confirmed over the following decades by instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope, which have modified both the popular imagination and the scientific representation of the universe. There is nothing particularly to be gained, in my view, in establishing to what extent the forms imagined by Bergamo resemble the structures observed in more or less remote parts of the universe. The universe, in its finite vastness, offers us a whole zoo of galaxies and nebulas amongst which we would certainly find a puff of gas and dust that resembles one picture or another.

What is interesting, from the viewpoint of an astrophysicist, is that wholly mental encounter between a real, astronomical universe, and the universe imagined by the artist. An encounter that flowers into a totally plausible creation. And that brings up the question, the old doubt: who is imagining what? And where does the chain stop? Do we astronomers study the real universe or the universe imagined by a Renzo Bergamo, the universe in which a Renzo Bergamo in his turn imagined has operated? As the Argentine writer Borges, the prince of fantastic illusions, put it: ‘You have wakened not out of sleep, but into a prior dream, and that dream lies within another, and so on, to infinity, which is the number of the grains of sand. The path that you are about to take is endless, and you will die before you have truly awakened’ (from ‘The Writing of the God’).

In the same way, in front of a painting by Renzo Bergamo that depicts a nebula or a galaxy, the suspicion arises that, looking closer, I – who am observing the picture in this moment – could identify right there, on the right, in that broil of colour, a planet like our own and, looking even closer, perhaps a Sandrelli, now intent on observing my eye that is observing him.