Neither Here nor There: Contemporary Art and Influences of The Theory of Inbetween

Posted: July 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

Liminal Rights, Aloyse Blair and Janelle Pietrzak, 2012

Since 1992 the concept of Inbetween has been of importance to the art world. This theory is not to be considered a boundary notion which implies an outside/inside and movement towards progressive action, but a space where the action of otherness and intersubjectivity occur (and this action is always open and continually unfolding).  As the subject is necessarily constructed by interactions, (i.e. the other and fluid self, continual reassessments between object and subject, and the tentativeness of being demonstrating instead a necessitative constant becoming), it becomes quite impossible to locate absolutely fixed ideas or completely unchanging individuals.  This fluidity, which seems to be intrinsic to any consideration of the social, material or individuals, indicates that it is of fundamental consequence to look critically at the space of the inbetween.
The notion of inbetween, as well as positing multiplicity and variability as the underlying consideration of the real, attempts to divine how to develop a suspension of normative ideals and social hierarchies (these hierarchies have an institutional/power stake in these ideologies) which keep these static social systems operational and circumvent open dialogues outside of these (pre)arrangements . Because of this the theory was a means and clarion call for social and (inter)personal equality where actual communication can take place between individuals. Social hierarchies must be divested in order that unimpeded communication, between free and equal participants of the community, can take place.

The concept of Inbetween was a seen by its adherents as a comprehensive methodology to explicate the field of the constructed individual in the nexus of multiplicity and the plurality of formulations of the world.

Inbetween as a category of ideas has come under many divergent titles (for instance, as the Third Space, or the Liminal) and, along with the Four thinkers developing this concept below, many additional thinkers were to mine the field of this endeavor. Included in looking at this idea are: Habermas’s thinking of the Public Sphere (pdf), Deleuzes assessments of Becoming and the Virtual, and Ranciere’s Dissent (to name just a few).

(Note: This post is one Section elaborating Theories of Contemporary Art After the Post-Modern.  See the list of theories with brief explanations here.)

 “A Life in BTween” Charlie White, 2012

Victor Turner
For Turner the Inbetween or liminal space is a physical place where the community allows a subject to experience a openness to the interpretation of individuality and the social in order to engage with others in a open dialogue and entertain the possibility of actualized interpersonal perspectives . Turner’s liminality is a realized time and place of withdrawal from normalized modes of social action, and allows for the communal (for those in the inbetween) scrutiny for central values and axioms of the culture where it occurs
During the liminal stage, normally accepted differences between the participants and the hierarchy and structuring mechanisms of social class, are de-emphasized and abandoned: ‘The attributes of liminality or of liminal personae (“threshold people”) are necessarily ambiguous’. Due to this suspension of normative social structure and the containment of dialogic possibility a  communitas is formed which is based on shared humanity and pre-social equality . ‘”Communitas”…has positive values associated with it; good fellowship, spontaneity, warm contact…unhierarchised, undifferentiated social relations
Without a social attempt to stabilize the space of the liminal the place of inbetween will collapse and the individual will be reinserted into a hierarchy where social interactions are truncated by disparate qualifications of subjectivities However for Turner it is possible to construct a spatial harbor for  liminal communities to exist and define a social structure of equal subjectivity and full communication between subjects. This actualized space of open dialogue was termed by Turner the “normative communitas” and is one which a society can realize if attended too.

Best essay to see this,
Victor Turner Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites of Passage.

Saul Melman, Best of All Possible Worlds, 2011

Homi K Bhabha
What is theoretically innovative, and politically crucial, is the need to think beyond narratives of originary and initial subjectivities and to focus on those moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences. These ‘in-between’ spaces provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood – singular or communal – that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration, and contestation, in the act of defining the idea of society itself.
It is in the emergence of the interstices – the overlap and displacement of domains of difference – that the intersubjective and collective experiences of nationness, community interest, or cultural value are negotiated.
Political empowerment, and the enlargement of the multiculturalist cause, come from posing questions of solidarity and community from the interstitial perspective. Social differences are not simply given to experience through an already authenticated cultural tradition; they are the signs of the emergence of community envisaged as a project – at once a vision and a construction – that takes you ‘beyond’ yourself in order to return, in a spirit of revision and reconstruction, to the political conditions of the present

From the introduction of,
Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture

Halim Al-Karim, Hidden Doll, 2008

Michel Foucault
This small essay, where Foucault defines a alternative human geography of place, looks at a number of problematized spaces which have the means to indicate the possibilities to create open and non-hegemonic conditionals for interaction. The space of the Heterotope allows the manifestation of the actuality of otherness, and therefore details the conglomeration and individuation of subjectivities outside of normative social binaries (which overly construct the individual and make interaction and dialogue impossible) such as Same/different here/there, Material/thought.  These spaces indicate a possibility of interaction between subjects which are outside the normative constraints of the social and its spaces.

Though Foucault delves into the hidden meanings of these places, and how the fixed ideological and hierarchical structure of society must displace these spaces to the periphery in order to contain them, the essay ends (spoiler alert), with a conclusion instigated by these sites, which calls for a complete freedom of subjective creation and social motion.

Michel Foucault, Of Other Spaces 1967

Zhang Dali, Chinese Offspring, 2003 to 2005

Hannah Arendt

In the Human Condition Hannah Arendt develops three spheres of human existence. The Third sphere, the Sphere of Action, is where speech and endeavor take place and is where humans are meant to manifest their equality in plurality and newness. As Arendt notes:

Action, the only activity that goes on directly between men…corresponds to the human condition of plurality, to the fact that men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world. While all aspects of the human condition are somehow related to politics, this plurality is specifically the condition – not only theconditio sine qua non, but the conditio per quam – of all political life .”

Each individual is unique and can bring new and original concepts to the social in the sphere of action.  How every only in the midst of others and the intersubjective interactions between subjects is action meaningful.   Action would be meaningless in the void of other subjects. and so give meaning to it. The meaning of any action along with how the individual gains identity by their action (which is also speech activity) in only established in the context of the play of individual and intersubjective plurality.  The presence of others to individual actions creates meanings and defines (though continually changing throughout all actions) individuals and the social simultaneously. The communicative, creative and disclosing nature of action is connected to the interplay of physical Action and speech action, and the personal and intersubjective interpretations.  Because of this Openness is the means and necessity of Action:

…freedom…is actually the reason that men live together in political organizations at all. Without it, political life as such would be meaningless. The raison d’être of politics is freedom, and its field of experience is action.”

Because of this the human condition exists as an inbetween site of individual action to speech, and subjective denotation to intersubjective consideration, within a plural and open field of interactions.

Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition 1958 (pdf, entire text)


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