The mixed-media monoprints (with collage, maculature, pochoir, and alcohol gel transfers) in this series, “Liminal Landscapes”, are based on the concepts of liminality from both anthropology and queer theory. They are an exploration of what makes a space liminal or queer, and how queer space is different from heteronormative space. These monoprints are visualizations of the mental and emotional landscapes of liminality (or queerness). They also explore what it feels like as a queer person to inhabit a largely heterosexual world, and why queer (liminal) space is so important to the LGBTQ community.
Liminal (or liminality) is defined as being in-between, and queerness is a form of this in-betweenness. If you identify as queer, you are neither male nor female. You are ambiguous and figured as somewhere in-between masculine and feminine or figured as existing outside the norms of society. In the same way that a queer person is a type of liminal persona, a queer space is a form of liminal space; a queer space, like liminal space, can be a space that is disorienting and out of ordinary time and place.
The concept of liminality was developed in the early 20th century by the anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep. He defined liminality as the quality of disorientation, disruption, and ambiguity that occurs in the middle stage of rituals or rites of passage–such as marriages, funerals, and births. He divided these rites of passage into three sub- categories:
1. rites of separation (preliminal rites): where the participant has left something behind or experienced some kind of symbolic death or detachment from the social structure or set of cultural conditions
2. transition rites (liminal or threshold rites): where the participant’s sense of identity dissolves and becomes ambiguous or detached from the social structure. The participant stands on the threshold between what they left behind and what they will become. The passage through this threshold realm is a liminal state.
3. rites of incorporation (postliminal rites): where the participant, after passing through the liminal stage, has finished the transition, is somehow changed, and and now holds a new and stable status.
The liminal stage is a stage “where the participant’s sense of identity dissolves and ambiguous.” This sense of incoherence and ambiguity, of not knowing where one stands or fits in the world, is a common experience for queer people. This sense of feeling out of place in normative spaces can often feel like one is living in a liminal space. I think this feeling becomes the norm for queer people–the sense of always feeling out of place, of not fitting in, of not belonging. Liminal space, then for queer people, might be a kind of space that feels comfortable because they are used to inhabiting spaces where they feel out of time and place and or have a sense that they do not belong.
In the 1960’s, the British anthropologist Victor Turner came across van Gennep’s work on liminality and expanded its application beyond rites of passage for individuals to larger groups, from villages to whole societies, and even to entire civilizations. Turner had the insight that liminality “…served not only to identify the importance of in-between periods, but also to understand the human reactions to liminal experiences: the way liminality shaped personality, the sudden foregrounding of agency and the sometimes dramatic tying together of thought and experience.” Turner hypothesized that a liminal state was a withdrawal from social norms and a disruption of ordinary time and space. He called the liminal stage a state of “betwixt and between.” He felt that this undoing or breaking down of the accepted societal norms and boundaries allowed for the the potential to scrutinize and criticize these very norms and boundaries–just as queer theory suggests. This allowed for the possibility of change and transformation into a different state and the resetting of the norms and a redrawing of the boundaries.
Liminality is a disoriented, in- between state, and a state that facilitates the disruption of both spatial and temporal dimensions. I would argue that queerness can also be a disoriented and ambiguous state, and as such, it can be used to disrupt and disorient time and space. By queering a space–disrupting or disorienting it–I am creating a liminal space. Queer space is also theatrical, sensuous, exaggerated, and, at times, anarchic (such as the ACT-UP demonstrations of the 1980’s, and the Stonewall riots of 1969). It is meant to transport you out of your everyday reality and help you to take a different look and reconsider what you are seeing and how you are seeing it. It is also worth noting that most queer spaces were not originally built as queer spaces. Most queer spaces are normative places that have been somehow changed or transformed into something “other” with methods that are often spontaneous, theatrical, sensual, exaggerated, or disorienting. This is often accomplished with a mix of high and low in the materials and themes.