The aesthetic known as a Liminal Space is a location which is a transition between two other locations, or states of being. Typically these are abandoned, and oftentimes empty - a mall at 4am or a school hallway during summer, for example. This makes it feel frozen and slightly unsettling, but also familiar to our minds.
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On May 12, 2019, an anonymous 4chan user asked on the /x/ paranormal board "post disquieting images that just feel 'off'". The images posted gave rise to what is known as Liminal Space today.
True to its etymology ("liminal" being derived from the Latin word limen, meaning "threshold"), the concept of a liminal space encompasses physical spaces that, due to their function, are transitional in nature - hallways, waiting rooms, parking lots and rest stops are the archetypical examples of such places. Liminal space aesthetics relate to the unique feelings of eeriness, nostalgia, and apprehension people report when presented with such places outside of their designed context; most notably, their function as intermediary points between origin and destination. For instance, an empty stairwell or hospital corridor at night might look sinister or uncanny because these places are usually brimming with life and movement. Therefore, the absence of external stimuli (such as conversations, people moving around, or any kind of social dynamics) creates an otherworldly and forlorn atmosphere.
While this definition is the closest to the usual, academic meaning of liminality, it should be noted that liminal space aesthetics have expanded in scope to include images of places that are simply nostalgic, dreamlike, and/or uncanny, to the point where the only remaining common trait across these ramifications is the striking absence of people. Although these are an incorporated part of the liminal space aesthetic, they are not considered as liminal spaces themselves. Even though this diversity waters down the definition of a "liminal space" by quite a lot, it also explains its newfound status as a meme by linking the allure of physical liminarity to the infancy memories and aesthetics of its fans, usually by invoking the cultural memory of the Millenial/Z generations through the frequent use of locations such as roadside attractions, playgrounds, vacant houses or abandoned malls, but also poor lightning, compression effects and old-fashioned decor. Due to their nostalgic appeal and dreamlike atmosphere, leading many to reflect on the passage of time and yearn for times of innocence and optimism associated with childhood and coming-of-age periods, liminal spaces are also strongly linked with Traumacore, Hauntology and other similar aesthetics.
Liminal space aesthetics also have a significant overlap with those of After Hours since both explore the atmosphere of vacant spaces that are easier to find during night time. But while the After Hours aesthetic plays with feelings of peacefulness and a tranquility, liminal spaces' appeal comes from their unsettling atmosphere.
Liminal spaces are also quite subjective. What appears nostalgic to one person may be more unsettling to another, while some may find the same image bland with no emotions attached to it. There is even debate as to whether it should even be considered an aesthetic.
Liminal space aesthetics consists of any room, corridor, or hallway that is big and empty, yet carries an eerie and unsettling vibe with it (this part is key in separating the Liminal Space aesthetic from just a regular photo of an empty room/corridor/hallway). This effect can be achieved with photo edits (Vaporwave, Acidwave, and Glitch edits, in particular, can assist in this effect. Although applying too much of these can sometimes ruin the liminality of the image), simple lighting tricks, or just capturing the mood at the right time of day.
Some edits of liminal spaces can give the effect of being in a retro horror or RPG video game (as popularized by YouTuber/Instagramer YOURLOCALBREADMAN) which can tap into either the uncomfortable, the surreal, or could just go full-on Lovecraftian with some of the design choices made in these style of video edits. Empty game servers and maps, mainly those presenting old-fashioned graphics such as GMod, Team Fortress, No Players Online or early CoD instalments, have also been described as liminal.
Despite this, however, possibly the best-known example of a liminal space is The Backrooms; an entry into the pantheon of creepypasta that is described as "what you see when you no-clip out of reality". The Backrooms has been adapted into a variety of media, but has been a particularly popular topic in the realm of video games, where no less than 5 games are based on the concept. In videos on YouTube discussing liminal spaces, The Backrooms are a popular point of reference to use when describing the aesthetic as a whole. Subsequent expansions of the Backrooms lore haven't been received without criticism, however, as many feel the adoption of more traditional horror elements draws away from its uniqueness as a barren liminal space.
External links to help get a better understanding of this aesthetic.
- ⚡AESTHETIC: liminal space by Chaotic Good
- trapped in a traumatic parallel dimension all alone by Haneli♡
- After Hours | Liminal Places [YT]
- After Hours | Liminal Places [Spotify]
- Liminal spaces by Rintindin
- aes: liminal spaces by not oscar wilde
- liminal spaces by cherie
- Liminal Space by Celina Slattery
- Liminal Spaces (Exploring an Altered Reality)
- Explaining Liminal Spaces
- What is Liminal Space?
- Liminal Spaces: A Theory Concerning Our Existence
- The True Meaning Of Liminal Spaces
- Que son los Espacios Liminales? - Lugares Extrañamente Familiares
- The Backrooms
- r/LiminalSpace, r/LiminalReality, r/liminalspacesgaming
- Funereal (2015), a "vaporwave novel" by Giacomo Lee with a liminal space-set finale
Photo of a mushroom Play room.