The images that lay between the line of pleasant, and uncanny
“Have you ever been in a Liminal Space?” — via The Vigornia
By Jacobo Rodriguez Solana
Apr. 17, 2021
The etymology of the word liminal, or “limen”, simply means threshold in latin, so we can understand that liminality is the state of ambiguity or disorientation (The Dictionary of obscure sorrows).
Liminality is represented by photos of spaces that in the words of Dr. Sarah Sawing Thomas, “almost everyone has seen either in their dreams, or flashes”. These types of photos, often atmospheric, low quality, lonely, nostalgic, and in many ways, deeply uncanny images, have gathered a small cult following on the internet. The locations that these pictures present, have been referred to as Liminal Spaces.
Backrooms are maybe the most popular example of a Liminal Space: they are basically an idea devised by a creepypasta. A creepypasta is a story that an individual creates, either for fun, or to try to scare out an unknowing viewer.
The creator of this theory tries to shed a light that if you “noclip out of reality” – which is a video game term used to describe when a player passes through, what is supposed to be, physical objects and boundaries – it results in putting yourself in a never-ending maze of rooms, carpet, and fluorescent lights.
“The Backrooms” — via Reddit
The photo shown above is normally used to emphasize backrooms, which, no one knows the true location of.
This creepypasta is extremely unique, because rather than imposing fear through an unknown entity or character, it uses the setting instead. The idea of being trapped in an inescapable location, away from the outside world, and that it can just happen randomly is pretty disturbing!
Connecting us to the images
It’s not like every photo will have an impact on everyone, some probably won’t have a feeling towards these images or relate to them, and that’s fine. However, it is hard to ignore the widespread phenomenon that is happening on social media.
An explanation on why some feel connected to these images resides on certain hypotheses. For Instance, Dr. Danko Nikolic, states that “Because our brains are hard-wired for context, places that are outside a certain expected space and time, or were taken out of the necessary context feel strange … The brain is a context machine”. Liminal Spaces are, at first, surprising, but completely explainable.
The complete and utter lack of people is probably one of the most powerful aspects of these pictures, there is a definition for this feeling, from the Dictionary of obscure sorrows: “Kenopsia”, the eeriness of places left behind. You get the feeling that the place was once full of people, but then, they all vanished mysteriously, leaving everything running, in quick instant abandonment.
“Mallwave” — via Rob Yeo Design
Many people have described a feeling of familiarity with the places, as if you had seen them before, like in another life, there is a term for this, again from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows “Anemoia”: nostalgia from a time that you’ve never known.
Many people debate about this, some link it with the theory of reincarnation, which can be easily explained; as the majority of people have been to places which resemble a lot the one in the image, shopping malls, old houses, and places with decaying 80s and 90s decor, they feel as if they have been there before.
Backrooms are probably just an abandoned office or storage space, so, it’s probably not reincarnation or something along those lines. Considering the places that these photos portray, it’s possible that their viewers are just unlocking long gone memories watching these images.
Since human beings designed and built places like these and people lived in them, it’s undeniable that they left a little bit of humanity in them, when humans are gone, it’s almost as if you could feel a ghost’s presence, a kind of eeriness and sadness that make these photos what they are. These places are being left in history, from a familiar, bygone era.
“Images that feel strangely familiar but uncomfortable” — via The Mixed Fan on Youtube
- Dictionaryofobscuresorrows. (2012, July 22). Kenopsia. https://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/post/27720773573/kenopsia
- Liminal Space. Aesthetics Wiki. (2020). https://aesthetics.fandom.com/wiki/Liminal_Space
- Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. (2012, December 21). Anemonia. https://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/post/105778238455/anemoia-n-nostalgia-for-a-time-youve-never
- The Backrooms. Reddit. (2020, April 20). https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/bq6jqp/the_backrooms/.
- Nikolic, D. (2010). The brain is a context machine [archivo PDF]. Retrieved from http://www.danko-nikolic.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/revija-Nikolic-Context.pdf