Just as we are in a seasonal holding pattern, bearing the brunt of the rains and the lingering cold as we dream of the warmth and reawakening of Spring, we are also in an existential holding pattern. We are living between worlds now, stuck in a liminal space between our previously congested, bustling, even materially greedy and irreverent lives and an unknown future, between what was and the brink of something new. We are in a terrifying, previously unfathomable transitional space; we are afraid to go outside and fraternize with others yet growing weary and despondent trapped in our forced seclusion. We are deluged with news of death, illness, uncertainties. As we sit imprisoned in this nightmarish limbo, we are forced to slow down, to become quiet, and to listen to our own thoughts. We are forced to imagine a different world and to more clearly see what’s happening around us.
By giving the earth a respite from our emissions, crowds, and our pollution, we are able to starkly see our negative impact on the earth. And we can now finally grasp what we need to do, to not only save our only planet but to save ourselves from new viral calamities that lurk inside the forests that we destroy, viruses waiting to see the light of day. The word liminal comes from the Latin root, limen, which means ‘threshold.’ The liminal space is actually the space after which the threshold is crossed, a space where you have left the past behind yet have not fully emerged into the radically new reality. We have crossed that threshold. We’re there. Scary as it is to embrace a new reality, the liminal space is also a space of transformation. Perhaps in the future we will show more concern for our neighbors, cherish human closeness and contact rather than take it for granted, and take care of the planet that sustains us. InLiquid’s virtual exhibition, Vernal Longing, is a collection of thought-provoking works that visually capture the theme of both the seasonal and the existential holding patterns, that uncomfortable liminal space in which we presently reside.
Chris Churchin’s Presence deftly conveys this emotionally charged moment, as we are forcibly wedged into that transitional space, awaiting the elusive Spring. This painting visually depicts the notion of being on edge, of psychological unrest. There seem to be heavy dark shadows on the ground, perhaps evidence of the long, cold nights of winter, or our own gloomy consciousness in these frightening times. There are almost pointillist paint marks blowing haphazardly above the shadows, like leaves swirling around on an autumn day. Here they seem to be collecting and spinning like a potentially malevolent force, and yet there are reassuring pink and yellow hues, as if reminding us that Spring is right around the corner. The sense of hopefulness in this painting reminds us that the notion of liminal spaces, like the one before Spring, are decidedly transformative. Ultimately those long shadows will recede and the pink and yellow will take over. As Churchin states: “My abstract work is an ongoing experiment to explore non-representation. I work with glazes, and heavily scratched surfaces, in search for non-space/non-form surfaces that bristle with movement and drama.” It is these non-space, non-form surfaces, expressed with staccato paint marks, that lends the painting an air of psychological tension. Similarly, Churchin’s Yield shows us a white center that exists between darker dense regions, as if conveying a space of meditative stillness in the midst of calamity. Perhaps it’s prescriptive for our current state of affairs, or perhaps again it conveys the idea of hope and longing amidst the darkness and cold of winter.
Though her work borders on abstraction, Erica Harney’s Sometimes It Snows In April seems to approach this theme of a seasonal borderline space more directly. The notion of early Spring as a transitional zone between winter and warmth is expressed here by the theme of snow in April. Here it’s as if despite concrete and realistic subject matter, the technique of utilizing abstract overlays lends it a more metaphorical feel. This painting, awash with the beautiful deep purples of Spring, also is encroached by a shimmering gold tone that seems to represent snow, but also contains the tonality of sunshine. It’s a street scene of a snow-covered springtime, conveying that liminal space between seasons, between death and re-birth. She states: “Residing in the interstices of realism and abstraction, my work is about the act of creating “selective” realities. These can be literal- like the exquisitely intentional fabrications of staged theatre, or existential- the self-images we craft in an effort to help us perceive and be perceived by others. Exploiting the deceptive nature of paint, I allow remnants of the physical and intellectual process to emphasize that the image is an artifice: deliberately constructed, edited, and presented in such a way as to become its own entity.” It’s not simply a photograph of a snowstorm in springtime but by virtue of the abstract layers reminds us that this is a constructed portrait, a symbolic representation of a street in the snow.
Unlike Harney’s realistic subject matter containing overlays of abstraction, Lee Muslin’s Dance of Spring is entirely abstract yet also captures the theme of the transitional space between winter and spring. There is a large dark purple paint swath in the upper left-hand corner of the painting, which drips down the center of the canvas. It is surrounded by other pastel colors, as well as some darker grey hues on each side. This painting seems to me to convey the encroaching springtime, accentuated by the pleasing pastel colors, but surrounded by the leftover greyness of winter. It’s as if it’s showing the spring actually banishing winter, making itself known by boldly occupying the center of the painting and dripping through the darker receding clouds. The patches of bright yellow seem reminiscent of sunshine, in contrast to the cloudy grey on the sides. And the brushstrokes are uneven, in some parts containing sharp lines, as if conveying movement or the remnants of a winter wind. As Muslin states: “I create a complex surface using many techniques that may include mark marking, collaging, stamping, and stenciling. Much is improvised as the artwork develops. A back-and-forth between spontaneity and intention characterizes my approach.” And the result is a beautiful symphony of colors, lines, and shapes that seem to capture the movement and dance of the emerging springtime.
In jarring contrast to the direct thematic components of seasonal borderland spaces in Erica Harney’s piece, or the entirely abstract images of Lee Muslin, Deborah Leavy’s Fencing the Sky gets at this concept of in-between spaces on an entirely metaphorical level through photography. It’s a simple photograph of barbed wire atop a chain link fence, reminiscent of a prison enclosure, in front of a glorious blue sky. It’s doubly secure fencing, a barricade that is meant to prevent escape. This photograph is obviously a far cry from the abstract pastels and shimmering gold snow of the previous works, yet remarkably touches on similar themes. On first take, I puzzled over how this could relate to the overarching theme of vernal longing. And then it became clear, as its possible meaning, so tightly wrapped in metaphor, is hidden from initial view. It’s a photograph of barbed wire and fencing blocking an open view of the sky. It eloquently, metaphorically captures this notion of being stuck in a space, a space that is not where we long to be, whether what we long for is the unobstructed view of the spring sky and sun or the freedom from the tyranny caused by this virus. We are trapped behind a fence, living our lives now as we are literally imprisoned in this limbo space, between the beckoning cloudless sky holding our past carefree lives, and an unknown future. Like the cruel barricade of winter, which keeps us trapped in the cusp of springtime but not quite there, we are trapped behind a metaphorical barbed wire, a wire that translates into face masks and gloves and fear for the future.
Chris Macan’s Duck Shack is a photograph that seems to capture the physical, visual embodiment of the abstract concept of the liminal space. The photograph depicts a decrepit shack, ragged with time, sitting starkly alone in a sea of marsh grasses. There clearly was once a bona fide home there, of a decent size and probably with needed amenities for the time. When the photo was taken, it had crossed a threshold from becoming a suitable home to becoming a useless ruin. But in that span of time, it had also gained notoriety as a symbol and icon. It became a welcoming gesture to those who entered Long Beach Island and a testament to survival. It had undergone a transformation from home to known, respected landmark. It is thought that the flag was placed to commemorate those who died in the tragedy of 9-11. During its transformation from home to a crumbling shack, it became laden with previously nonexistent meaning and transformed itself into an icon. At the time of the photograph, it existed in the transitional space between home and complete wreckage. This seems to capture the notion of a physical manifestation of the liminal space; contrasting the metaphorical liminal space between teenage years and manhood, or the early signs of Spring after a cold winter, or even our own quarantined existence between our past lives and an unknown future, this shack is a physical transitional structure. The photograph captures a structure that exists in the space between a true home and its eventual destruction, which in this case did occur during Hurricane Sandy. It existed in a transitional zone but rather than being on the cusp of a positive event like the coming of Spring, it sat at the cusp of its own destruction.
Every work in this exhibit, only a few of which are discussed, conveys that liminal space, whether through abstraction or realism or a combination of the two and in an array of mediums. Several of these works also chart the traverse from the known of that borderline, uncomfortable space to the unknown, from the past to the future, in ways ranging from unflagging hope to total destruction. These works all poignantly portray our vernal longing: a longing for the re-birth of springtime and for a new, virus-free world inhabited by positive change. Spring is certainly a season caught in the space between death and re-birth. It’s a space that’s in limbo, a borderline space. But the thing about Springtime is that re-birth always follows death during winter. It’s a transition filled with certainty and with new beginnings. Like the borderland of Springtime, we are all stuck in a metaphorical in-between space as we sit quarantined in our homes, though one with less certain outcomes. What we do know is that we are on the brink of irreparable global change, just as the world changed following the tragedies of 9-11. It may comfort us, though, to remember that liminal spaces come with transformation. As we are trapped in our collective liminal cocoons, waiting to break free and fly away, we might consider what that transformation might look like. Perhaps we can be instrumental in creating positive change, by appreciating each other and our beautiful planet. And as we are forced to slow down, perhaps we can become cognizant of the power of simple things. Perhaps. But for now, we need to sit tight with our vernal longing.