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What are Liminal Spaces?

Picture the birthday party room at a roller rink. The ’90s-patterned, black carpet floors, the plastic foldout tables, the florescent lights. Now imagine this room completely empty, out of context and slightly dark, probably after closing time.

Uncomfortable, right? Just imagining it in your head gives you a queasy feeling, even though there’s nothing inherently unfamiliar or dangerous about the environment. This is an example of a liminal space.

The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word “limen,” which translates to “threshold.” Liminal spaces are environments that we pass through but aren’t usually long-term destinations or places where we live. Public bathrooms, hallways, classrooms and maybe even party venues could be considered liminal spaces. However, where that off feeling comes from is when these places are empty or viewed at an unusual time.

A deserted mall at night. Hallways that seem to lead to nowhere. An abandoned, drained waterpark. These spaces are only meant to be temporary experiences, so perceiving them at moments where it seems like you’ve outstayed your time there feels unnerving. When we see these areas out of their usual context, it makes us feel as though we’ve entered an alternate reality.

Liminal spaces bring about an odd mixture of nostalgia and unease. There’s uncertainty behind all these places. Looking at photographs of liminality is like being trapped in an uncertain waiting game. Because of this unique feeling, there’s been a growing cult following of all things liminal. I, for one, could look at these photos all day because I find them endlessly fascinating. Love feeling slightly off-put? Check out these Reddit and Twitter pages filled with thousands of people contributing photographs of liminal spaces.

By DJ Butter

A little Butter makes everything better. Part-time WKNC content manager and graphic designer, full-time sludgy surf rock funk master metalhead. Get in touch with ya suggestions n' such at content@wknc.org.