Exploring Liminal Practices in Art, Technology, and Science

Exploring Liminal Practices in Art, Technology, and Science

Denise Doyle (University of Wolverhampton, UK)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8205-4.ch001
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Abstract

This chapter interrogates the notion of the liminal in relation to the virtual and the imaginary through a consideration of the field of art, science, and technology and current creative practices in virtual worlds and avatar-mediated space. In particular, the art project Meta-Dreamer (2009) is considered through the manifestation of the avatar as digital object. In its attempt to explore the experience of “living between worlds,” it reflects the concerns of contemporary arts practice exploration of time and space relationships. The art project is re-examined in light of key arguments in the provocative text Liminal Lives (Squier, 2004) that advocates a new approach to the liminal in light of current biomedicine and the shifting and emergent qualities of contemporary human life.
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Introduction

In the field of Art and Technology the ease in which we experience the liminal through virtual space is even more pronounced when the space is avatar-mediated creating an oscillating state of existence between the virtual and the physical1. Yet both consciousness and the imagination depend on this liminality of space. With a focus on the ‘threshold’ this continual ‘about to become’ is almost a necessary condition of being. Some virtual environments (or worlds) deliberately play with this “existential overlay to the physical” (Lichty 2009, p.2). Working with a new framework of the emergent imagination consideration is given to the transitional spaces created in artworks in virtual world spaces where aspects of the liminal come to the fore.

This chapter discussion reconsiders a previous text written by the author entitled Living between Worlds: Imagination, Liminality and Avatar-Mediated Presence (Doyle, 2012) in light of the key issues and arguments explored by Susan Merrill Squier in her pioneering and provocative text Liminal Lives: Imagining the Human at the Frontiers of Biomedicine (2004). Arguing from the fields of literature and feminist science studies Squier challenges Victor Turner’s notion of the liminal as a purely cultural construct that is played out in key moments in a persons life. Turner presupposes that biology is a constant, something that is fixed; it is rather culture that offers the potential for liminal spaces to be created (Turner in Squier, 2004, p.4). As Squier notes, ‘as Turner understands it, while the liminal is shifting, life is still stable [original emphasis]’ (Squier, 2004, p. 6). However, she argues that ‘contemporary biomedicine necessitates a significant revision of Turner’s thesis, one that acknowledges the shifting, interconnected, and emergent quality of human life’ (Squier, 2004. p.6).

The chapter considers to what extent we can examine imaginative or liminal states that are, as Edward Casey notes, “remarkably easy to enter into”, yet their “very ephemerality renders [them] resistant to conceptual specification of a precise sort” (Casey 2000, p.6-7). It considers to what extent transitional spaces share similar characteristics to the liminal.

  • Does the liminal always find the point of the threshold?

  • Does avatar-mediation (re)space the imagination to a place geographically distant from the body?

  • Do we experience liminality in a similar way? Or is the liminal more closely bound to the temporal?

  • To what extent are both conditioned by the virtual?

The relationship between the transitional and liminal, and the avatar experience, sets out a particular view of the imagination and its elusive, and sometimes liminal, qualities. Squier advocates that ‘we need to move beyond Turner’s exclusively cultural framing to understand liminality not merely as a cultural state but as a biocultural process’ [original emphasis] (Squier, 2004, p. 8). Creating from a liminal space or a liminal zone, making manifest from these transitional spaces raises questions about the relationship between technology and biology that will be discussed further in the chapter. Squier notes that creations from the space of the liminal (for example the case of adopted embryos) they are neither one or the other, neither life nor not life, suggesting ‘a new biological personhood mingling existence and non-existence’ (Squier, 2004, p.5).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Emergent Imagination: A term used to denote the most active state of the emerging imagination when interacting with avatar-mediated online spaces and particularly those that reflect the laws and logic of the physical world.

Embodied Imagination: A term used by the Dutch psychoanalyst Robert Bosnak that he closely associates with the dreaming brain in which multiple spatial embodied states are experienced simultaneously. The term is also used here to denote the experience of sensing a spatial presence in virtual space through a ‘sense imaginary’ and the association of the body of the avatar.

Biomedical Imaginary: A term used by medical sociologist Catherine Waldby to describe her proposal that scientific practice should include an ambiguous, liminal, and symbolic realm.

Liminal Space: A term used to denote a space that creates the condition of being at, or on both sides of a threshold or boundary, and relates closely to the state of being in-between.

Transitional Space: A term used to denote the movements of the imagination in which vectors of meaning are created out of the relationships between physical and virtual world spaces.

Imagination: The Latin (and English) origin for the imagination is the verb imaginari , whereas the Greek term is phantasia . The etymological implications of this term are discussed in the chapter. Edward Casey defines the imagination as the complete phenomenon composed of two phases; the act phase and the object phase. The term is used here to imply a state of creation and act of becoming : a bringing into being rather than as the inverse of the physical or tangible.

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