The Mundane as Liminal
Liminality as a concept was introduced to my intellectual lexicon only this semester, and somehow it has already managed to become a topic of great interest and contention for me. The more I focussed on trying to make tangible this seemingly intangible experience, the more irritated and mentally nauseous I felt. Lucikly, in the course of this grappling, I managed to find a connection with one other space in my life with similar traits and purposes.
Initial research brought several different definitions and dimensions to this idea of liminality. From my understanding, liminality represent a disorienting state of transitionary in-betweeness, a state of existence where participants no longer are who they were but also do not hold the awareness of what position they will be in the future. There is however an understanding of a need to keep moving forward, it’s the only way.
Being away from home and family for the first time in my life, my existence currently seems to be split into two timelines — home, and here — each rich with their own abundance in memories and experiences. This struggle has proved to be if anything utterly exhausting and quite brutally lonely. Increasingly however, I found myself slipping into a dimension that existed between these two timelines, a space that can’t be defined by spatial coordinates but rather time parameters, a world where intentionality has little influence on the outcome of events. The more I started to pay attention to it however, the more absurd and disorienting it felt. There’s a certain timelessness factor to its that can be maddening but also charming, the lack of agency to really change anything can also be equally disorienting. This project has been if anything a manifestation of that aimless wandering, as for once I allowed my experience and process to determine the form rather than determining a visual language prior to it.
A blurry idea on its own, deliberation over this idea over the course of the past few weeks have been anything but orderly. I started to look at the internet’s many definitions of liminality and was particularly drawn to Reddit’s interpretation of liminal spaces — these everyday common, corporate or hotel spaces that were empty and devoid of meaning. The viewer is automatically put in the scene of the picture, with no idea whats behind but not quite sure what’s ahead either. All that is evident is necessity to move forward to find out more.
What’s interesting about these spaces is the sense of repetition that can be perceived in any one of them, be it the patterns used, the plain devoid-of-meaning choice of colours, the never-ending corridors. This particular attribute of these spaces inspired in me sentiments that were quite close to my increasing understanding of one other phenomena — the mundane. It too is seemingly never-ending, it too is disorienting the more you pay attention to it, it too is very lacklustre, and it too necessitates going forward. When experiencing the mundane, we don't know how we slip into the state, nor do we know where or when it ends but their is a personal consensus that going forth is a must to know more, let alone escape. The mundane exists as an intermediary space on the event horizon, between the previous noticeable event and the next. Interestingly, the mundane catalyses a sense of time distortion or malleability and can vary depending on our defitions of the mundane. It could be between the last time you went out of the house and the next, it could be between lunch and dinner, or even between your last marriage and the next. With this parallel made between the mundane and liminality, I set forward to figure out what language my project would take.
Another parallel that felt naturally drawn was to a lot of absurdist philosophy and its understanding of the universe as inherently lacking in meaning. According to Albert Camus, one of the fathers of Absurdist philosophy, man’s biggest and most intimate concern is the “yearning for unity”, a want for clarity and familiarity and universality about why things work the way they do.
“The mind’s deepest desire, even in its most elaborate operations, parallels man’s unconscious feeling in the face of his universe: it is an insistence upon familiarity, an appetite for clarity…That nostalgia for unity, that appetite for the absolute, illustrates the essential impulse of the human drama.”
- The Myth of Sisyphus
In the wake of modernism and the industrial work ethic and lifestyle, man’s life had successfully become a repetitive, mechanical, and alienating landscape that left him feeling nothing. But, every man eventually faces a moment of great realisation of the pointlessness of all his endeavours, the meaninglesness of his work and the lack of purpose to existence. Upon confrontation with this “absurdity of life” as Camus terms it, a phase of realisation of the insignificance of one self in the grand scheme of things, the realisation that the universe will continue to exist and burn regardless of our consistent generational marvelling of it and our deep desire to unify with it and it’s many manifestations, man is left in a perpetual state of meaningless existence. Camus describes this point in time to be unimaginably daunting and challenging for one’s existence, as a lack of purpose signifies a lack of reason to do anything, which ultimately signifies a lack of reason to exist.
But for Camus, rebellion against this unavoidable oblivion and meaningless existence was possible and very much something we all do everyday, in the littlest of ways, through our relationships with people, with art, with nature, things that provide us with a sense of meaning and purpose. We all indulge in a bit of rebellion everyday, essentially rebelling against that inevitable suffering and death. To be able to maintain an awareness of that absurdity and still find purpose to exist was something Camus thought of almost as a superpower, a supreme state of consiousncess. Such an indivudal Camus calls his “absurd hero”, or the rebel.
The maintenance of a lucid awareness of the absurdity of life tends to naturally stimulate “revolt”, a feeling of outrage and protest against one’s tragic condition, and a defiant refusal to be broken by it. To revolt is to say ‘no’ to one’s absurd existence, and in the process to say yes to some other, more desirable, existence.”
- The Rebel
Strangely, I felt as though my rebellion was most evident whenever I encounter the mundane. The mundane and its solitariness and its meaninglessness really demands of you to question your purposes for existence. There’s nobody around experiencing your mundane with you, the onus is thus on you and only you to “rebel”. I thus felt whatever form my project was taking, I would have to don the role of Camus’ absurd hero within my own project, I would have to portray my own “rebellion” in the mundane.
The idea is thus to represent my experiencing of the mundane, this liminal space between my existence back home and my existence here, as a never ending corridor that becomes increasingly warped and distorted with time. Intervening are the memories and experiences that have allowed me to be able to rebel in a space like the mundane, devoid of meaning, devoid of purpose, devoid of anything or anyone but myself. The most important consideration going into making the project was figuring out a visual language to represent these quite abstract connections I was making, and the very blurry and complicated nature of these concepts themselves only made it a lot more challenging to figure out. I decided to go with a video format seeing how this project clearly had both a time and spatial dimension to it.
Getting started was more difficult than I imagined. Not only was it difficult to keep hold of these concepts and connections in my mind but to channel them into a medium proved to be quite the uphill task. I felt almost as if I was Sisyphus himself, doomed to eternally push this project uphill. Shooting in video was a completely new experience for me, as I tend to operate with photographs and still images a lot more. I started to shoot videos of my existence everyday, the sights I saw, the sounds I heard, the conversations and interactions I was having with the spaces and people around me.
After several iterations and rounds of critique, and weeks of editing, I finally had a deliverable that I felt depicted my story.
The entire video is shot in portrait to signify the narrowing periphery one experiences when in the mundane — you don’t really look elsewhere, just forward and where you need to be, even if that may not be clear. Additionally, the absurd but certainly not original idea of shooting video in portrait seemed like a unique way to depict this unique experience. The video is best viewed on a mobile device.
As part of our project, we were also asked to have a printed component. My idea was to make posters for my video, like previews for a film. The posters are in many ways inspired from the video itself. The verticality of shooting in portrait inspired the accentuated height of each poster, the usage of monochrome throughout, the type choices etc. I also wanted to make the posters more connected to the video itself rather than exist in an isolated space of their own. I thus incorporated augmented reality to embed little previews and teasers of the video into each poster using the power of ‘Artivive’. The QR code additionally take’s you directly to the video on YouTube. The posters thus act as not only visual previews of the video, but as a call to action to the actual project as well.
And so I invite you to experience the ‘Mundane as Liminal’ for yourself. Simply download and install the Artivive app from the App Store or Google Play on your mobile device and hover your screen above each poster below to activate them and experience them in AR. The tool is still a bit finnicky admittedly, so it might take some moving around on your part to activate the posters. You can also scan the QR code to take you directly to the video.
Additionally, this project represents a very important moment in my life. As someone who struggles to see self-worth, my designs as an extension have never really seemed to me as valuable to anyone but myself. They’re deeply contemplative and self-reflective, and while I’m no doubt proud of them, I’ve never been proud enough to actually showcase them or brandish them. For this project however, I did. I decided to spend how much ever it would cost to print, had to tackle the problem of colour calibrating with the printer, challenges I had never taken on before.
This project has been the most intellectually and aesthetically challenging project for me so far, it really was more a process of finding my way through this absurdness rather than my usual structured approach to design. I got to work with mediums I’ve never used, deal with topics so very close to me, and flex my toolkit a little. It only seem far to end the semester with a project that is in more ways than one so me.