Welcome to ant(e)room, a digital in-between, where we explore what it means to exist spatially as a teenager: existing metaphorically, geographically and digitally within a liminal waiting room. This project is based on research into the socio-spatial logic of liminality:
Binary Space, Liminal Space and Third space
Much of the literature into urban public culture tends to, broadly speaking fall into two categories: that which examines public culture and spatial politics in sanctioned or formal, open public space, such as parks, high streets, piazzas and squares etc, and literature which consider public culture within ‘third spaces’, or in-between spaces (Gehl 1987), such as in bars, café’s, hairdressers, street markets, lobbies, porches, corner stores, taxi ranks etc.
Moving however, beyond what Iveson ( 2014) refers to as the ‘ceremonial model of public space’ – in which “genuine public space” is thought to be space that “represents the triumph of the public over the market” (188) via spaces such as grand boulevards, public squares and parks – we can consider in more detail in-between spaces. More critically so, we can explore the tension that is negotiated within these in-between spaces, particularly in relation or reaction to ‘ceremonial’ public space.
For instance, Meskimmon (1997) notes that artists often reference or depict the city not by its grand monuments, but rather by spaces of transgression and encounter between different classes in ordinary spaces like the street at night, the brothel, a café or bar. However in such a binary model, ‘ordinary’ can only exist in relation to, or in juxtaposition with, ‘extraordinary’ spaces, and it is within this juxtaposition – this in between space of transgression – that we can identify a tension between formal and informal space, between sanctioned and self-regulated places and the spaces of liminal encounter.
Space in Three Parts
Oldenburg (1999, 2001) famously proposed the concept of 'third places', which is a space that is neither one’s home nor work, but a liminal space in between these two zones (i.e. a café, a hairdresser, library, market etc.) that becomes a significant site of connection and exchange between people that would otherwise be strangers. Oldenburg provided eight key criteria that define or contribute to a ‘third place’: a space that is a ‘neutral ground’ – somewhere occupants are not committed or tied too; a ‘leveler’ – where social status is not important; a place where conversation is the main activity (though not necessarily the only activity); they are accessible and accommodating; they contain ‘regulars’, who are known by many and regularly frequent the third place; they maintain a low profile and are not overly grandiose; they maintain a playful mood; and lastly they feel like a home away from home.
Edward Soja (1996) also defines a ‘Third Space’. Though unlike Oldeburg’s third place, which describes an existing, physical space, Soja’s Third Space refers to a conceptual model. Soja sets-up a theory of spatial trialetics, in which he proposes analysing space through the lens of first, second and third space. First space is the ‘real’ space that exists in material reality , that can be seen, felt, mapped, measured, inhabited etc. Second space is an ‘imagined’ representation of (first) space, and space in thought: it is how first space is perceived and conceptualised (including via representational mediums such as art, literature, media). Third space however, is where the first and second space come together and occurs when our experience of first space is mediated through the lens of second space. According to Soja (and building off Lefebvres concept of ‘lived space’), third space therefore, is ‘fully lived spaced’ and as such is where we actually exist. How does this however translate to digital space? Is it a fourth space?
Perhaps we can find an answer in Lefebvres (1991) model of third space, which played a key influence in the work of Soja among many other scholars. As a foundational spatial researcher, Lefebvres proposes a tripartite schematic of space – in which spatial practice, representations of space, and representational spaces – all exist in a dialectical tension between one another. ‘Spatial practice’ represents the everyday patterns and sites of social activity and is where the reproduction of social relations occurs. ‘Representations of space’ is within which space is defined or conceived of, via measuring, maps, plans etc, and are the spaces of planners and scientists. And lastly, ‘representational spaces’, which we experience passively and seek to change or reappropriate via the imagination. Social space which is produced by all three of these, when “considered in isolation ... [is a] mere abstractions. As a concrete abstraction, however, they attain 'real' existence by virtue of networks and pathways, by virtue-of bunches or cultures of relationships” (ibid: 86). Further, according to Lefebvre “social spaces interpenetrate one another and/or superimpose themselves upon one another” (ibid: 86), so in this way our experience of social space occurs within space bound by pluralist social relations. Hence “visible boundaries, such as walls or enclosures in general, give rise for their part to an appearance of separation between spaces where in fact what exists is an ambiguous continuity” (ibid: 87). We situate ant(e)room therefor within this continuity, a mere abstraction created through networks and pathways.
Building off this, Low (2014) suggests that “space and its arrangement and allocation are assumed to be transparent, but as Henri Lefebvre (1991) asserts, they never are” and when “critically examined, space and spatial relations yield insights into unacknowledged biases, prejudices and inequalities that frequently go unexamined” (2014: 34). Design research as well as increasingly digital exploration allows for a closer examination of the lived experience of these ‘spatial relations’ of social space, and the way that ‘representational space’ and ‘representations of space’ are negotiated (via ‘spatial practice’).
Liminality and Ritual
Returning to this issue of understandings the interrelation between ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’, it is important to identify the imbued meaning, memory and ritual assigned to these spaces. Anthropologic research into ritual can offer a useful ontological perspective on the nexus between ordinary and extraordinary spaces. While in some regards third space could be thought of as a form of ritual (particularly in their quality of maintaining ‘regulars’), a significant concept within this spatial nexus and ontological framing is liminality.
While conducting ethnography on the rituals of Ndembu tribes, Victor Turner (1967) seminally defined the anthropological concept of liminality, building on rites of passage work of Van Gennep. The liminal stage refers to the transition phase within rituals that mark a change in status – it is the intermediate stage where you are no longer the person you were before entering the ritual, nor yet your new self. Within this stage a person’s sense of identity may change , or a new one adopted – one that is unique to the experience and embodiment of the liminal stage. For Turner a liminal person is “neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention and ceremonial” (1969: 95). During this phase, a person might experience what Turner dubbed ‘communitas’, which refers to the experience of togetherness or camaraderie amongst a group of people who are in a liminal stage, or ritual together.
Stevens (2007) explores physical liminality in the form of thresholds to buildings “which mediate between different behavioural settings, between public and private realms and between indoor and outdoor space” within which people experience “release from the limitations and order of spaces where they have defined roles and commit their attention to specific tasks.” (141). It is worth considering where spatial and ritualist liminality merge, particularly as liminal performance and ritual tend to often occur in physically liminal spaces – with each influencing the other.
Take for instance the ritualistic liminality of lining up to enter a music venue. Here punters are in an in-between phase, where they are neither their ‘regular’ selves, that which they are during the working week, and they have not yet entered the final ritual destination of the night club or music venue, in which they will adopt a different (though temporary) persona (St John 2015). They are in a ritualistic in-between space, as well as physically, in a liminal space. They are not inside the venue (a private realm), and even though the queue into the venue is physically on the street, in the public realm, punters are not necessarily on the street either (in the same way that passers-by are): they are in the roped off area of the queue – an intermediated space between both realms. And arguably, a realm of its own. Likewise, while in this in-between space, they bond with people in the queue or meet their friends and experience a collective excitement for the ritual they are performing (of entering the venue) during which they may experience ‘communitas’. In these spaces, liminality is often tangibly experienced, and these sites become culturally significant as that they allow the physical space for performativity of ritual - both amongst punters (or the ‘communitas’) and to the wider public.
Youth in Space
Spatial design directly or inadvertently sets both physical and socialised parameters and rules around how we can and cannot behave in built environments. For instance, Doreen Massey (1999) writing on youth culture, highlights how spatial authority regulates people based on age. It is not acceptable for teenagers to spend time in children’s playgrounds, for instance, nor are they allowed to enter licensed venues such as bars and nightclubs, or cinemas playing certain films due to their age. This has broader societal implications as “the definition of the spaces where particular age groups are allowed, is part of the process of defining age groups in the first place” (ibid: 127). Age being of course just one of the various ways that spatial parameters categories us.
What this often results in, taking the above as an example, is teenagers (which is already a very liminal age) spending time in inadvertent ‘third spaces’ where they are socially and spatially permitted to be, such as shopping malls, park picnic areas, stoops and stairways etc (to return back to the earlier mentioned theories of third space). Furthermore, there behaviour in these areas is often categorised as ‘loitering’, however it can be argued that this is a result of the spatial functions permitted by these sites. This occurs both from a lack of alternative, as well as a desire or need to protest the spatial parameters set on their particular grouping (in this instance, by age). Massey touches on this spatial protest and resistance, arguing that “attempts to territorialise or regulate space are not all one way”, with young people responding or embodying space based on their own rules too. And while Massey identifies this as an “important element in building a social identity”, we could go a step further and argue that these processes are also significant in building a cities or neighbourhoods identity. The tensions that arise from socio-spatial parameters, and the creative, rebellious, or at times inadvertent responses to these tensions by those effected, are arguably central in the unique identity of a city. In any regard, these themes of being locked out and attempting to claim space in a complicated terrain of socio-spatial sanctions as experienced by a teenager was a key inspiration for Ant(e)room.
A tension also exists between sub-cultural movements in urban spaces that want to be seen and to occupy public space, with the need for more covert, liminal spaces within which the culture flourishes. Take for instance, the Hollywood punk scene in the 1970’s and 1980’s, as documented by Susan Ruddick (1998), which occupied many unused buildings to squat/live in, host events in and socialise. Ruddick points out, through interview data, that despite many of them technically being homeless, the young people did not identify as being homeless, but rather as ‘punk’. A distinction which was based largely on their squatting subculture, which in itself was almost entirely dependent on their “access to and control over particular material and symbolic spaces within Hollywood” (such as notable squat locations) (Ibid: 347).
Some of punks spatial interactions relied on covert, unseen sites to occupy, for very practical reasons (to not get evicted from their squats etc.), some required very public space in which they could engage with the broader punk community and space, and be seen by the wider public. The rest (and arguably majority) of their spatial interactions required ‘marginal’, liminal spaces that were in the public area, but somewhat more discrete and tolerating of punks (as well as having other atmospheric qualities, for instance, cemeteries are listed as popular hang-out areas). With the demise of these marginal spaces (as the Los Angeles neighbourhoods and other cities that had large punk scenes experienced waves of gentrification), the punk scene struggled to remain as robust.
In this way a traditional example of civic and public space, such a city square, library, public fountain etc (or ‘ceremonial models of public space’) would not suite the socio-spatial needs of many punks. So instead they have co-opted unused, or undesired space. These areas become their ‘spots’, their territory, as opposed to when they are in these more traditional public spaces, in which case their claiming of space as a punk is an embodied practice (through dress, behaviour, being in groups etc.). Though this is just one example, this process is significant in terms of our epistemological and practical understand of space, as it brings to the fore the functionality and benefit of liminal, marginal, forgotten or unwanted spaces in a city. Those which are otherwise planned-out and avoided or built over. Without liminal spaces, how to subcultures such as punks exist spatially? And how does this affect our understanding of functional space? Is there in fact a need for liminal spaces as much as there is a need for non-liminal, tangible, intentional spaces, as one cannot exist without the other?
About The Project
Ant(e)room is an on going transdisciplinary project delivered through a collaborative between Ceridwen McCooey, Ilana Razbash, Rachel Iampolski and Savanna Wegman, and premiering as part of Melbourne Design Week.
About the contributors:
Ceridwen McCooey / Composition and Music
Ceridwen McCooey is an award-winning composer and musician specialising in solo cello and electronic looping pedal. She is currently completing her honours at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. Mcooey was selected for the Melbourne Recital Centres’ three year scholarship program Accelerando and in 2018 Ceridwen was given a scholarship to study a Bachelor of Music Performance at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. In 2019, Ceridwen was awarded the Kate Flowers Memorial Scholarship as well as the Allan Zavod Performers award for her performance of an original composition also for solo cello and looper called The Conference of the Birds. This work was recently released as Ceridwen's debut album with New York based label Rhodium. In 2020 Ceridwen was commissioned by Arts Centre Melbourne to write a work as part of Memory: 5x5x5 2020.
Ilana Razbash / Architecture and Planning
Ilana is a registered architect in Victoria. She is passionate about buildings for people and communities, working across a range of education, public and health projects. Ilana completed a Master of Architecture with Distinction at RMIT University in 2019, as well as BArchDes. with Distinction in 2015. Ilana's previous experience includes study abroad, Ph.D research assistance, public speaking and exhibition curation. During 2020, she has co-hosted two "Light At The End of the Tunnel" conversations with Parlour and was a guest-speaker on the series in 2021. She has a keen interest in innovative procurement, the future of practice, plurality within architecture and radical listening. Between 2019 and 2021, Ilana co-curated RE/SET at RMIT First Site Gallery alongside Rachel Iampolski.
IG: @Razbash_ Twitter: @IlanaRazbash
Rachel Iampolski / Research and Writing
Rachel Iampolski is an emerging researcher and creative producer interested in praxis situated within the public realm. Rachel is completing a PhD at the Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University exploring the informal, citizen-led reclaiming and repurposing of public space and built urban form and teaches in the Sustainable Urban Planning faculty. She is an Early Career Advisors for Public Space at City Space Architecture, as well as a founding member of the Alliance of Praxis Research. With a strong interest in praxis and creative research outputs, drawing on a Masters of Arts and Cultural Management, Rachel works as a freelance producer and curator exploring creative works that intersect public space, having most recently produced events at First Site Gallery, MPavillion, the Festival of Urbanism. She established and leads the creative and tactical urbanism platform, Public Street, which explores the role and politics of urban space through walks, reading groups, spatial interventions, and publication.
IG: @Rachel_Iampolski Twitter: @RachelIampolski
Savanna Wegman / Interior Design, Rendering and Video Production
Savanna Wegman is a digital artist and emerging theatre director, designer and writer based in Naarm (Melbourne) practicing on Boonwurrung country. Her work currently researches structures of game, speculative reality and the creation of new theatrical forms through digital/non-digital scenography. She co-founded the STRANGEkit Performance Collective in 2020 and has completed a BA at Monash University studying theatre and performance, literature and digital humanities. Her recent projects include: Set Design Assistant ‘The Dream Laboratory’ (Essential Theatre 2022), Set/Costume Design Secondment ‘The Mermaid’ (La Mama 2021), AudioVisual Production Designer ‘WE ARE AIR’ (Melbourne Fringe 2020), Co-director ‘UnderEden WALKMAN’ (STRANGEkit, Melbourne Fringe 2021), ‘HOLESP@CE’ (STRANGEkit, Melbourne Fringe 2020) spanning across immersive, live, digital and hybrid mediums.
This collaboration formed following the exhibition RE/SET at RMIT First Gallery in 2021, which was curated by Ilana Razbash and Rachel Iampolski, and featured a collaborative audio-visual piece by Savanna Wegman and Ceridwen McCooey titled Migration (2021).
A 3D scan of the exhibition can be viewed here
The contributors of the project will be presenting a digital panel as part of Melbourne Design Week discussing the process of creating Ant(e)room along with the broader themes explored within the work. Please feel free to join us for this event on the 21st of March at 6pm by signing up via the following link: https://designweek.melbourne/program/antiroom/
If you would like to get in touch with the project contributors, drop us a line here
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