Contemporary Art and the Liminal Space: Refuge for the Divine in an Empirical World?

  • Adam Ghani

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research explores whether a concept of the divine can have alternative expression outside of religious bodies in contemporary art and utilises this notion in the idea of liminality, which is defined as a transitory rite of passage between different states of self. Since the liminal is a fundamentally ambiguous and uncertain experience, this research frames its argument in the idea that a perception of the divine has its refuge in such a state, regardless of whether religious creeds of the sacred have been rejected. It is through a contemporary art venue then, that the liminal concept can be applied for the purposes of testing this theory.

In the search for contemporary art mediums that are dynamic enough to fit this ambitious criteria, it is the discipline of intermedia art which has been selected, involving the bringing together of various elements (be they visual, aural or textual) and applying them, all at once. With the potential of simultaneous artistic effects at work, which become disorientating in their potentially ambiguous effect, such a method subsequently becomes the direct evocation of the liminal experience. A Practice Review examining various examples of intermedia art, from contemporary practitioners, demonstrates how the liminal theme applies to their works, followed by an in-depth exploration of the theme itself through the lens of various disciplines (such as depth psychology). A Methodology will be laid out for the application of my own intermedia framework, which selects visual split screen montage with audio and text incorporated from other sources, thereby reconfiguring the original narratives displayed. This framework of utilising previously unrelated elements is correlated to the metaphorical application of Alchemy, which depth psychologists have perceived as a process of the psyche and through which one element mediates between the others, thereby conducting a liminal operation.

The research then analyses a sequence of seven completed montage works that make up the practical side of this undertaking, all utilising historical subject matter as originally interpreted in biographical film sources and then aligning them to a counterpart in order to grasp a mythical commonality. From this, we can detect and interpret the archetypal significance of such figures and why they have historically been symbolic to whole cultures, having long lasting effects on the political, social and cultural zeitgeists of their time. From these works, we can therefore detect how an unorthodox notion of the divine is evident in narratives which initially seemed to have no relation to spiritual concepts; however, when re- configured in relation to new elements, historic time is suspended and through the liminal effect, deeper narratives of divine myth become signified.
Date of AwardOct 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorCraig Staff (Supervisor) & Andrew Hewitt (Supervisor)


  • liminal
  • liminality
  • divine
  • sacred
  • numinous
  • alchemy
  • intermedia

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