Tag Archives: aesthetics

Liminality in art (2)

The notions of boundaries, borders, limits, thresholds and so on may be as ancient as the human population itself. In Greek/Roman mythology they are expressed by names of different gods/goddesses, hybrids and monsters – Zeus cares for the Olympus, Poseidon is a guardian of waters, Hades rules in the Underground; forests, agriculture, arts and law – every human (divine and monstrous as well) activity and embodiment of the spirit has its own powerful protector/ rules maker and no interference is into each other territory is tolerated.

Religions exist due the numerous polarities, and the most popular story of creation (Book of Genesis) had started exactly from this – from a separation and making sharp divisions between elements and the mater. In order to survive the species would have to define and fight for the territories and the evolution of the human race is an ‘epoch’ of transcending the boundaries of nature, space and time…

The social, cultural and personal identity couldn’t be possible at all without the ongoing, often uncompromising process of the differentiation. And when philosophy tends to look for an unity and structure in the universe despite of all the intrinsic and imposed/created dichotomies, art in general would indulge in exploring the world as seen within the “frame” (think now about Derrida’s “The truth in painting” and his deconstruction attempt of all the ‘frames’ we tend to see the art through) and beyond it.

And so it goes – Christ would be a ‘worthy’ subject, but even some of his disciples not exactly; harmonious human body was only true representation – the ugly/mutilated one was worse than some of the animals; one ‘breed’ of art-view was ‘high’ (read: ‘true’), the others were ‘pseudo-‘; painting the landscape naturally excluded the sky-view and the figurative works were exorcised of all the abstract elements (and vice versa). The universe seen as in an atom of a very particular concept/meaning or a set of those (lets say: christian version of god, humanists’ vision of a man, romantic vision of a landscape, modernists’ subversion to the classical art) which had to be frozen, clearly and in a division to its possible and apparent opposites… This is basically what all the history of the Western Art is about. About Old Testament God’s job of making the world happen by creating borders between chaos and order, good and bad, light and dark, sky and earth, the animals and the human beings, the human beings and the Holy one.

Where the ‘liminal’ creeps into all of this? Well – right at the start, I guess and simply because the artistic activity in itself situates man on the existential threshold; a bit like a prayer or a sexual act – two different worlds meet and penetrate each other; the universe as it is (or appears to be) and the universe to be created… And the conscious artist is very likely to aim at or to be the ‘passeur’ -‘a boatman’, ‘smuggler’ – the man of passage, the guide who leads his audience beyond the status quo crossing social, cultural,¬† psychological, spiritual and sometimes very physical boundaries in order to show/explain/challenge…


This article is a part of a series “Liminality in art” where I intend to define and explore the philosophical and aesthetic notion of the liminality. Please, refer to other articles from the series in order to get the fuller view.

Strangers, Gods and Monsters?

Strangers, gods and monsters are the central characters of my story. Their favourite haunts are those phantasmal boundaries where maps run out (…) No man’s land. Land’s end. Strangers, gods and monsters represent experiences of extermity which brings us the the edge. They subvert our established categories and challenge us to think again.
(…) Figure of a ‘stranger’ (…) operates as a limit-experience for humans trying to identify themselves over and against others. (…) Monsters show us that if our aims are celestial, our origins are terrestrial. They ghost the margins of what can be legitimately thought and said. By definition unrecognizable, they defy our accredited norms of identification. Unnatural, transgressive, obscene, contradictory, heterogeneous, mad. (…) Gods are the names given by most mythologies and religions to those beings whose numinous power and mystery exceed our grasp and bid us kneel and worship. (…) Transcending laws of time and space, they readily take on immortal or protean status. Gods’ ways are not our ways. They bedazzle and surprise us. It is not ours to reason why.

“Strangers, Gods and Monsters – Interpreting otherness” (2002) by Richard Kearney. This book is a truly inspiring piece of a contemporary philosophy (with an emphasis on a cross-disciplinary approach) – fantastically written, and with a formidable erudition. The theme in itself can make a life-long passion for an artist, a writer or a philosopher alike. It’s universal, immortal, captivating, inexhaustible. A concept and an experience of the liminality of the humanness, the identity and the nature of being/existing as one of the species, being challenged by and/or … living as a ‘stranger/the Other’, ‘a monster’, ‘a deity’… What does it all mean and why most of us take such profound issues as if for granted (actually, not addressing them at all); letting only to be occasionally ‘scared’ by a horror-movie or bedazzled by a genius of a literary/artistic god? How about our true identity/nature, why do we need ‘strangers, gods and monsters’ at all – aren’t they something like projections of this part of our psyche/mind, which still remains – partly due to our own wish – “no man’s land”- Terra Incognita?

Think about that a bit, my dear readers, it’s a perfect brain-teaser for this time of the year. God comes as a stranger to defeat a monster – but – couldn’t be like that – these three¬† composing just one being – own being? Merry Christmas everyone. As a character of W. Wender’s film had said to an angel: I cannot see you but I know that you are here. Thanks for your attentive, well-wishing and open-minded company.

P. S.
Richard Kearney is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and University College Dublin.
Click at the title to read a review of this book. The fragment quoted comes from an ‘Introduction’, pp. 3-4

Art Diary (9) – The Sublime

What these images have in common? Is there any sensible link between C.D. Friedrich’s “Wanderer”, the Cosmos, Barrack Obama’s image and Andreas Gursky’s photo (the last image) of the stock exchange? What would be that feeling, that intangible sensation of ours, or maybe even their own – those propositions’ intrinsic quality, which keeps us utterly speechless pondering over the infinity of the Space, which leaves us completely ‘knocked down’ facing Friedrich’s vision of the Nature, which makes us truly enthusiastic and ‘bowing’ to the charisma present in people (the new US president is the ‘fresh’ example); which leads us on a verge of an absolute confusion scanning the artificial universe of the stock exchange?

Philosophers and art critics called it “The Sublime” and, quite predictably, they made a whole, complex and disputable aesthetic concept out of this elusive spiritual phenomenon, this metaphysical ‘slap on the face’ that we feel entering unchartered, unknown and frightening (yet always in a pleasure-giving way) territory. Would it be the Romantics’ wilderness or the contemporary jungle of the financial markets or the true power of the human character reaching to its heights – its far more than just ‘beautiful’ – ‘beautiful’ can be a humble flower in your garden… Sometimes you cannot even call it ‘beautiful’, at least not in a classical meaning of the word… But it is ‘sublime’ – it’s intense, powerful, vast, superhuman – it both terrifies you and cast a spell upon you, it never ‘asks’ to be followed, it simply launches a rocket straight to your soul – but the answer is yours – be overpowered or reject it.

My humble belief as for now is that the new, re-thought and skilfully presented Sublime can have a redeeming power over the contemporary art. Maybe this is the time, when we could and should dare to reach to the depths of the human spirit again, the way our great grand-grandfathers from 18th century did?… Obviously, the simple return is impossible – not ‘after the Holocaust’, not after the death of god and not after the traditional philosophy had bankrupted as a ‘rescue’ to the overwhelming confusion of the existence. But to create that experience of being ‘uncompromisingly alive’, of being struck like by the lightening by the world, by another human being again – to invent, to design and to make it inhabitable anew… That would be something – wouldn’t it?

This is my intuition for today. I will give it some more thought in the future…

%d bloggers like this: