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Liminal Space aesthetics revolve around pictures of transitional areas devoid of life, such as malls in the early morning, empty parking lots or a school hallway during summer. The appeal of liminal spaces is often assigned to their frozen and slightly unsettling appearance, but also the indefinite sense of familiarity they evoke. The depicted spaces often include late 20th and early 21th century architecture and furniture, linoleum tilings, ceiling tiles and cool-toned fluorescent lighting that creates a detached, unwelcoming and cold feeling, but the aesthetic has evolved to adapt to a multitude of settings and media formats.

History[]

On May 12, 2019, an anonymous 4chan user on the site's /x/ paranormal board called for posts of "disquieting images that just feel 'off'". The images posted gave rise to what is today popularly known as liminal space; however, while 4chan might've catapulted liminal spaces into the mainstream, the film The Shining (1980), and its depiction of an empty and sprawling hotel, has been identified as one of the main inspirations for a lot of modern-day media pertaining to liminal spaces.

Despite this, however, possibly the best-known and earliest example of the liminal space as an Internet sub-culture 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.

Concept[]

True to its etymology ("liminal" being derived from the Latin word limen, meaning "threshold"), the idea of a liminal space encompasses locations that, due to their function, are transitional in nature - hallways, waiting rooms, parking lots and rest stops are some archetypical examples. Liminal space aesthetics are built around the unique feelings of eeriness, nostalgia, and apprehension people describe 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. The absence of external stimuli, such as conversations or the motion of people, creates an atmosphere often described as otherworldly and forlorn.

While this definition is the closest to the usual, academic meaning of liminality, it should be noted that liminal space aesthetics evolved to include images of places that are simply nostalgic, dreamlike or uncanny, with the absence of people becoming the only remaining feature of the original concept. Although these are all incorporated parts of the liminal space aesthetic, they are not considered liminal spaces themselves. This expanded scope also gave the phenomenon a wider appeal among those from the X, Millennial and Z generations, who connected the mysterious allure of liminal spaces with their own infancy and cultural memory, usually through the frequent use of locations such as roadside attractions, playgrounds, vacant houses or abandoned malls, but also artifacts such as poor lightning, compression effects and old-fashioned décor. 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, by nature, easier to find during night time. But while the After Hours aesthetic plays with feelings of peacefulness and tranquillity, Liminal Space's appeal comes from their unsettling atmosphere. After Hours aesthetics are also generally more grounded in reality, opposed to the dream-like vibe of Liminal Spaces.

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, given how much it can rely on cultural hallmarks that vary from place to place.

Visuals[]

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 or hallway. This disconcerting effect can also be achieved with simple lightning tricks, nonsensical architecture, misplaced elements, capturing the mood at the right time of day or 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), .

Some edits of liminal spaces can give the effect of being in a retro horror or RPG video game (as popularized by YouTuber/Instagrammer 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.

Calm Liminal[]

While not a widely recognized aesthetic, "Calm Liminal" is a variation of liminal spaces that induce feelings of peace and serenity rather than mystery and tension. Calm liminal spaces are commonly open scenes devoid of detail, but still employ common motifs seen in everyday life to match the liminal definition of "threshold". A representative of this genre would be the Backrooms Fandom Wiki author WindXD. Many of his levels depict peaceful realities, snapshots of relief or solitude interplaced in vast, endless waters. Others include the calm light of lamps shining amid a snowy night. Certain types of liminal music can also be considered calm liminal. They are commonly in major keys, and much like their image counterparts, smoothly induce feelings of tranquility.

Please refer to the last images from the gallery or read some of WindXD's calm liminal works like "Peaceful View" to gain some experience around this sub-aesthetic.

Resources[]

External links to help get a better understanding of this aesthetic.

Literature[]

  • "House of Leaves" By Mark Z. Danielewski
  • "The Library of Babel" By Jorge Luis Borges
  • "Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity" by Marc Augé
  • "The Memory of Place" by Dylan Trigg

Film[]

  • The Shining (1980)
  • Edward Scissorhands (1990)
  • Toys (1992)
  • Toy Story (1995)
  • The Truman Show (1998)
  • Toy Story 2 (1999)
  • The Cat in the Hat (2003)
  • Elephant (2003)
  • Vivarium (2019)

Songs[]

Playlists[]

Pinterest Boards[]

Videos[]

Other Media[]

Video Games[]

Gallery[]

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