Liminal Spaces are a new phenomenon from the Internet. It describes places that lie between two destinations, serving as a transition from one to the other, so to speak. They are thresholds that capture a very specific moment or place, usually in pictures or videos. On sites like 4chan or Reddit, thousands of users share a fascination with such photos, which can trigger different feelings. Some have a tinge of nostalgia, others possibly of horror. Where does this enthusiasm of Liminal Spaces come from and how common are they?
Where do Liminal Spaces come from? Explanation
The concept of liminality is not new, but has been communicated for centuries. At the same time, the interpretation can differ and has also adapted over the years. Roughly speaking, it can be understood as a kind of transition. An example of this is the years spent as a teenager. This describes the transition between being a child and being an adult. In terms of spaces, it describes places that serve as thresholds.
However, the phenomenon of liminal spaces only emerged in 2019 and 2020. Even before then, people liked to post similar images showing empty hallways or long-forgotten shopping malls. But with the story of backrooms and the accompanying photo of a yellow-wallpapered room without furniture, this kind of image first got a designation. There were other images posted on the same 4chan forum that create a similar mood.
Unlike „The Backrooms,“ however, there is no context or backstory to Liminal Spaces. The images simply exist to be looked at. Everyone can interpret them for themselves and everyone looks differently at a photo of a Liminal Space, which makes this phenomenon very unique.
What makes Liminal Spaces stand out? Characteristics, features
It can be very different. One big criterion is that there are no living creatures in the pictures. After all, these places represent a transition where no life should exist. But the definitions can vary and there are different categories. It doesn’t always have to be old photos, but also edited and surreal images or spaces in video games can be shared.
Horror plays a big role in terms of Liminal Spaces and goes hand in hand with the genre. Here, it’s not monsters that haunt you, but a kind of existential dread that catches up with you. You know you’re alone, and that’s what triggers the horror. Will you ever be able to leave this place? What could possibly be lurking behind that dark doorway you can see out of the corner of your eye? This concept of subliminal creepiness is essential to liminal spaces.
A very simple example of a Liminal Space is a corridor in a hotel. The lobby and the room are anchor points where most people spend an extended period of time. But the corridors in between are just a threshold, serving alone to get from point A to point B. Many images of Liminal Spaces focus precisely on such hotel hallways, as they describe exactly what liminality stands for. Elevators, stairwells and large parking lots are also good examples of Liminal Spaces.
A sense of nostalgia
Something that unites most Liminal Spaces is a sense of nostalgia. Many of these images appeal to that very part in our brain, as if we’ve seen the space depicted there before. These include empty arcades, that one living room of grandma’s, old shopping malls, an empty parking lot at night, or abandoned playgrounds. These are typical liminal spaces and link the aspect of nostalgia.
These places remind us of days from our childhood spent with friends we probably hardly know today. Sometimes these images give you a comfort and you remember those very moments in life. Liminal Spaces are a glimpse into the past, to long forgotten places from the subconscious.
However, Liminal Spaces also show almost impossible places that may remind us of past dreams. You may also have a sense of déjà vu, thinking you’ve been exactly there before, but not being able to remember. The feeling of nostalgia is overshadowed by a possible fear, an inkling that not everything is as it is shown. This is also an important characteristic for Liminal Spaces.
Different Media and Liminal Spaces
Surprisingly, the concept of Liminal Spaces is nothing new, but has only been brought back to the surface by the advent of backrooms. However, there are many examples in previously published media that use liminal spaces as a specific element.
Liminality is often seen in video games, even before 2020; well-known liminal games include The Stanley Parable, Superliminal, and Control. Many older games also have subconscious liminality, because in the past, graphics were not as pronounced. Known for this are especially games that were made with the Source engine. This includes Half-Life 1 and Half-Life 2, but also many fan games. Super Mario 64, which was released for the N64 in the mid-1990s, also fell into the discussion around liminal spaces. Minecraft can also be described as a kind of Liminal Space in some situations, especially earlier alpha and beta versions.
Books, series, and movies have also long used this concept, especially in the genre of horror. The „Red Room“ in „Twin Peaks“, the Overlook Hotel in „The Shining“ or the house from „House of Leaves“ are just a few of the examples that subconsciously use the concept of liminal spaces to create creepiness.