Marcel Mensah | Eat More Spiders
Internet Aesthetic Movements: Getting Lost in Liminal Space
Updated: Aug 15, 2022
“Internet Cultural Movements: Getting Lost in Liminal Space” is part of a larger series where we take a deeper look into internet aesthetics and strange visual movements. If you're new here - you can read an introduction to the series here :)
What are Liminal Spaces?
“Liminal Spaces” refer to an assortment of feelings, images, places and concepts rooted in what can be referred to as “uneasy nostalgia”. One of the more notable understandings of the phrase refers to the Internet Visual Aesthetic - but in reality the concept behind the Liminal Spaces goes much deeper than an assortment of strange images on the internet.
Liminal spaces are defined as “a location which is a transition between two other locations, or states of being...typically these spaces are abandoned and / or empty with a feeling of being frozen and slightly unsettling” Reference.
The term Liminal Space comes from a combination of a few sources:
Definition and History of the “Liminal”
The term “liminality” was coined in 1909 by German-French Folklorist Arnold Van Gennep. It was first published in his book Rites de Passage - a piece that explores transition in the context of ceremonies in small communities. Put simply, in this book, Liminality referred to a rite of passage that resulted in a change of status for an individual or group.
Liminality can also be described as the “...ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet fully transitioned to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.”- (WIKI). This essentially speaks to liminality as the period of change where you are not the same as you were, and are yet to become what you will be.
Second, The Word “Liminal” can be traced back to the Latin word “Limen” meaning threshold, defined as “- the point at which you start to experience something, or at which something starts to happen” - The Cambridge Dictionary. Still with me?
What are Liminal Spaces:
Now that we’ve defined the word “Liminal” let’s get into Liminal Spaces in the context of Internet Aesthetics. There are 2 main characteristics of a liminal space;
They are transitional in nature
They bring up an uneasy sense of nostalgia.
Liminal Spaces refer to locations that are what we call “transitory in nature”, or places that are meant to take you from one place to another. For example, most liminal space imagery is of hallways, parking lots, waiting rooms, rest areas, and pathways. The unique thing about these spaces is that they are almost always dark, empty or abandoned - creating a deep sense of eeriness.
The eeriness comes from seeing these places outside of their “designed context”. ie a dark classroom without any children in it. A bus stop that looks like it’s never been used. A hallway so dark and foreboding you couldn’t dream of walking down it. Because we’re viewing these areas in a way that’s unexpected, it gives us room for our imagination’s to run wild a bit. Below are some examples -
The second core aspect of liminal spaces is the feeling of “Uneasy Nostalgia” that they induce. When looking at liminal space imagery, often we feel as though they’re places we’ve been to before and thus the uneasiness comes from our lack of knowing why we recognize these places. This is one of the most interesting aspects of liminal space imagery -
Why do we feel like we recognize liminal spaces?
Okay, now we can address one of my favorite questions about the Liminal Space Aesthetic; “why do these spaces look so familiar?
There are a lot of answers to this and again, everyone will have a different, personal relationship to Liminal Space imagery. That being said, most of the people consuming this aesthetic trend were born in the 80’s - 90’s (and now very early 2000’s though it’s less common).
Liminal Images have a tendency to portray buildings, themes, technology, art and areas from the 90’s - 2000’s which is when a lot of us were growing up - which is why we tend to feel so nostalgic about it. the visuals portray a lot of what we knew as young people but in ways that seem slightly off and unsettling. See below
That sense of nostalgia is a bit different for people born after 2000’ and before 1990’ which makes the Liminal Space, Hour Hours, Backroom etc. aesthetics especially nostalgic to people born between 90-2000’. Is that something you can relate to?
Examples of Liminal Spaces
One of the most well known examples of Liminal Spaces is the Level 1 of Backrooms - better known as “The Halls” (More on this in a future article). The Backrooms are a seemingly infinite, repeating series of rooms and hallways with unending yellowed carpet and tacky corporate wallpaper that stretches on indefinitely.
Despite being one of the most recognizable segments of the Liminal Space genre, the Backrooms aren’t a great example of the traits that we talked about in the beginning of this article.
While its hallways and rooms certainly are “transitional by nature” they don’t communicate this as well as some of the other imagery we’ve gone over. And while there is a nostalgic quality to the Backrooms imagery, it’s not often that people get the sense that they’ve “been there before” which is common for other Liminal Spaces.
We could write a book about the backrooms if we wanted - but for the sake of this article’s length we’ll leave it at that and pick up on Backrooms lore and history a bit later.
2 other great examples of the Liminal Space Aesthetics are: Abandoned Malls (especially 90’s - 2000’s malls) and Unliminal Spaces. (Unliminal Spaces will have their own article in the series very soon!)
Abandoned or "Dead" Malls
The Abandoned Mall subgenre is exactly what you’d expect; a collection of images in a “liminal tone” taken in abandoned malls. Usually documenting franchises and brands that no longer exist, in spaces that haven’t been used for their intended purpose for, in some cases, decades.
This subgenre also makes a very interesting implied commentary about western consumerism, and how often super hubs of buying, selling and community can be left abandoned when they’re no longer useful.
“Unliminal Spaces” is an interesting subgenre to look at. When you hear the word Unliminal you may visualize something that is the ‘opposite’ of what we understand to be a liminal space - but that isn’t necessarily what an Unliminal Space is.
Instead, Unliminal Spaces are “ simply enough, spaces that might have been liminal but there is just something humorous about the decor or the place itself that ruins the creepiness.” Ref.
Often in this subgenre you’ll see old images of children's play areas, abandoned theme-restaurants, wacky decorations and odd plastic sculptures from the 2000’s era. I consider Unliminal Images to be visual cousins to the “Wierdcore” genre.
How Liminal Spaces altered the course of Internet Aesthetic Culture:
Well… I started writing this section only to realize that including it almost doubles the length of this piece in the series. With that being said In the future We'll release a Part 2 on Liminal Spaces. When it's public, the article will be findable here - H̴͍́ê̴͆͜[𝙡𝙞𝙣𝙠 𝙘𝙤𝙧𝙧𝙪𝙥𝙩𝙚𝙙] r̸̠̈́ệ̴͝
Thanks for Reading! - Marcel M | Eat More Spiders
For a more comprehensive list of internet aesthetics and genres, check out a few of my favorite blogs / Articles:
Aesthetics WIKI - encyclopedia of online and offline aesthetics
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