Updated: Jun 16, 2020
This is that moment when your reality feels altered, and uncomfortably alien. Often you're alone, or away from the crowd, and sounds start to become heavier, or there are no sounds. All your surroundings are unnaturally still, or terrifyingly fast in comparison to your own stillness. You can observe the dust particles flicking through the air, or the echoing of bright lights. This feels like something out of a film, like you're being watched, or that this moment holds significance in your life. What was meant to be a transitional scene has become a moment of piercing clarity and self-awareness.
These spaces can be defined as liminal spaces: a transitional cavity or boundary between capacities. The adjective 'liminal' is derived from the Latin 'limen' which translates as 'threshold', fitting for what can be seen as the threshold between our everyday reality and moments of intense, otherworldy clarity.
Beneath are some examples of liminal spaces:
Beaches at night
Motorway rest stops
Empty hotel hallways
Airports early in the morning
Hospitals at night
Being alone in the snow
On a plane when everyone is asleep
Gas stations at night
Empty school corridors after school
Waking up in someone else’s house
The last one awake on a sleepover
Walking down an ikea isle
Reflection of water rippling on a ceiling
Supermarkets near closing time
Your house after midnight
Empty cinema corridors
Empty car parks
Your room when its raining
Another word for this might be kenopsia, which refers to the eerie atmosphere of a space meant for, but absent of, people. This stems from the Greek 'kenosis' meaning emptiness, and 'opsia' meaning seeing. Again, there is the suggestion of seeing something that goes against its function, like seeing beauty, or a sense of self, in the expanding emptiness of a hotel corridor.
Julia Awad, from the Odessey, writes that the feeling of an altered reality occurs "because of the incapacity of our brains to process these liminal spaces as individual entities. Our brains react to context, so when a space lacks context or we experience it out of context, we feel uneasy or anxious."
However, liminal spaces may not always make you feel nervous and can be spaces of comfort, or perhaps introspection. A place of altered reality does not have to occur in a transitory space, but somewhere that encourages you to pause and reflect on the liminality of you and your surroundings. In short, any sense of alienation, disassociation and disorientation.
swimming bodies ©Neil Krug
tower block ©Lauren Tepfer
swimming pool foot ©Aurvm
hospital corridor [own photo]