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Ponderings Upon Underpasses as Places of Veneration, Desecration, and Gateways to Other Dimensions

For Phase 1 of the Underpasses Are Liminal Places project (July – November 2020), I asked field ops to place a sticker(s) within their chosen underpass, or underpasses. They were then required to record the ‘adventures’ of their stickers through photographing them every couple of weeks and sending these images on to me. Over those 3.5 months we saw some fascinating interactions taking place between those wee stickers, the underpasses in which they were situated, and the people who traverse these spaces, whether for ease of movement, or, for other purposes…

In this post I am going to discuss how, I believe, several of the project stickers were exposed to acts of veneration, as well as desecration, and how underpasses could be considered as possible portals to different realms…

VENERATION:

The two images below were taken by one of our East Sussex based Field Ops, Sarah-Jayne Farrer. They both focus on an underpass in Eastbourne. The image on the left, taken on 11/07/2020, shows us our wee sticker freshly placed within its underpass, waiting for the adventure to begin, and what adventures this little sticker had in store…

11/07/20

Royal Parade, Sovereign Roundabout, Eastbourne, East Sussex, England: Both images © SJ Farrer

22/08/20

As we can see on the right, new stickers have been placed within close proximity to our UALP image. The one directly to the right is especially interesting, but the one above also connects with it. As I’m sure many of you already know, One Step Beyond was a massive hit for Madness in 1979, although originally recorded, and written by, Prince Buster. This sticker features a SKA boy and could very well have just been randomly stuck within the underpass. However, after checking with Sarah-Jayne, it must be noted that, up until that point, no other stickers had been placed within the space, only the two in the image above. For me, this is important. Yes, we could simply take the sticker at face value and assume that it’s a nod to a famous tune, randomly positioned within the underpass. OR we could take a deeper approach…

The wording on the sticker is key, ‘One Step Beyond’, but one step beyond what? Hitting euphoric highs through music? Repetitive beats enabling access to altered states of consciousness? Stepping into the realm of the underpass in order to move ‘beyond’? I conject that the positioning of this sticker next to ours was a very deliberate undertaking. It could be suggested that this was a purely gravitational act, attention through association, but I do not think that this is the case here. I strongly believe that this sticker is an indicator, a secondary marker. That the person who placed it directly next to the UALP image perceives underpasses as spaces of transition, as liminal places, and wanted to encourage others to follow the signal…

I deem this as an act of veneration. Deference to the message conveyed through the medium of our sticker; underpasses are liminal places, that can initiate change, transcendence, enabling one to break through to the ‘other side’, whether literally or metaphysically. Yet veneration isn’t only practiced through the visual conjugal. Physical extraction should not be considered purely as a negative, as an act of desecration. I think that we can also view sticker removal as an act of devotion, perhaps even, the highest form of adoration.

The uprooting, and complete removal, of an UALP sticker, especially an intact sample, could indicate a desire, a need to possess these stickers. Perhaps this covetousness stems from a belief that through ‘owning’ a sticker, change, transition, perhaps even transcendence, can be initiated. However, we must also consider that the removal of these stickers from their locations may also have been undertaken for very different, perhaps even nefarious, reasons. Desecration doesn’t only occur within more ‘traditional’ sacred surroundings…

DESECRATION:

A not insignificant proportion of the project stickers were subjected to damage; partial tearing, complete removal, or ‘elimination’ through concealment. I would suggest that there is a marked difference in intent when we look at torn stickers in relation to stickers that have been removed in their entirety or painted over. Yet could all these acts be considered profane? Let’s take a further look…

Eastern end of the city underpass, Hereford, Herefordshire
Western end of city centre underpass, Hereford, Herefordshire.

Both images 23/08/20 © Tony Hack

This underpass in Hereford, 16 miles east of the Welsh border, is particularly interesting. Both stickers were placed within the underpass on the same day, 12/07/20, and both remained in situ, undisturbed for over a month. It wasn’t until 23/08/20 that Field Op, Tony Hack, noticed the occurrence that had taken place. Although the sticker placed at the eastern end of the underpass remained in place and unscathed, its counterpart at the western entrance had been partially torn away, leaving less than a third of the original in place. The fact that the sticker hadn’t been removed in its entirety suggests that it wasn’t removed by the council. If this had been the case, why not remove the sticker completely, and why leave the easterly sticker in situ?

So why was this sticker removed, and not the other? Well, there could be several reasons for this. Perhaps the person who tore away the westerly sticker didn’t see its fellow on the eastern plaque; thus, it escaped the same fate? Perhaps the person was just having a bad day and decided to alleviate their vexation on the sticker? Perhaps they thought it was stupid, infantile; ‘underpasses are liminal places’? what rot!  Or there could be a deeper reasoning behind its removal…

The very act of tearing away a sticker, especially when the force employed physically fractures the sticker in two, suggests an element of irritation, perhaps even anger. Were these removals undertaken as a way of counteracting ‘vandalism’? Or could the amputation of these wee stickers from underpasses around the world have been undertaken for deeper, perhaps even, esoteric reasons?

As mentioned in earlier articles, underpasses are contested spaces, considered by some as places where only certain people, those deemed ‘appropriate’ and/or ‘worthy’, are allowed to wander unimpeded. What if the stickers and their tagline, ‘Underpasses Are Liminal Places’ had touched nerves, gotten too close to the bone for some people? Perhaps these little adhesive strips were markers that were not welcome within the realm of the underpass. Potential signals for those who were not considered suitable acolytes for the knowledge and power accessible from within these spaces. This line of thought ties in with Julian Thomas’ thoughts on why sites, such as Avebury, incorporated such large banks and ditches, as means to restrict both visual and physical access to the sacred knowledge which was being disseminated to very specific individuals during certain rites and rituals.

Underpass, Barbican, City of London: 11/07/20: Both Images © Lady Liminal

Above are a couple of images of an Underpasses Are Liminal Spaces sticker which I placed with the amazing underpass at Barbican, City of London, on July 11th, 2020. I need to make clear that the surface upon which I placed this sticker was completely void of any deliberate human markings at this point in time. There is a very good reason as to why I want to highlight this point. Please see below…

Underpass, Barbican, City of London: 01/08/20: © Lady Liminal

The above image shows what I found when I returned to the Barbican underpass on August 1st (approximately 3 weeks later). As you can see, the sticker has been completely removed. I searched the pavement directly underneath the pillar, as well as for 50 feet in both directions. The sticker was nowhere to be found. I was, however, presented with this very interesting symbol.

Now to the casual passer-by this may look like nothing more than a doodle, a strange squiggle perhaps. However, the moment I saw it, it struck me. For me this was a very deliberate act. The sticker had been purposely removed by the person(s) who had then taken the time to draw this symbol upon the pillar. What does the image symbolise? Was it a warning to me, a magical sigil of some form? Again, had the wording on the sticker upset certain individuals? Had I touched upon something secret, something that was not to be made known to the masses?

Initially I considered the possibility that this was an eye, drawn upon the spot on which I’d placed the sticker. Silently warning me that I was being watched, monitored, and not by something as crude as the numerous CCTV cameras installed throughout the length of the underpass, but by something older, more powerful, connected. I ruminated upon this possibility for a few moments as a different possibility began to emerge.

What if this symbol wasn’t an eye? What if it was a depiction of a vulva? Symbolism that dates back millennia…

The earliest (at present) artistic representations of vulvas and vaginas date back to the Venus figurines of the Upper Palaeolithic period. The oldest known example being the Venus of Holhe Fels. Uncovered in modern Germany, this figurine dates to between 35 & 40KYA, on the very cusp of the Middle – Upper Palaeolithic transition (Conrad & Malina, 2015).

There are many possibilities as to what these depictions could convey. Metaphors for life, through childbirth, protectors against evil and death, gateways, permeable places… I was reminded of how many people equate subterranean spaces and, in turn, many underpasses with ‘Mother Earth’…

“The warmth and darkness radiating from the ‘down-below’, reigniting long buried remembrances of residing within the womb. Deep stratigraphies stimulating deeper memories”

Lambert, 2021

Had the location of my sticker blocked a channel? Had it been removed in order to enable reconnection? Or because it was drawing too much potential to this particular threshold? I decided to reattempt placing the sticker on the same pillar, in order to see if any further interaction between myself and this other person(s) would transpire. However, I was mindful to be respectful. I did not wish to offend anyone. With this at the forefront of my mind, I decided to place a new sticker on the same pillar, but not directly over the newly drawn symbol, and see what would happen…

Underpass, Barbican, City of London: 28/08/20: © Lady Liminal

I left it nearly a month before I returned to Barbican to see what had happened to my sticker. In all honesty, I really didn’t expect it to still be there, so I was very pleasantly surprised to happen upon the above image. Not only was my sticker still in situ, but no further artistic action had been taken by the creator of the symbol. Again, this is purely supposition on my part, but I like to think that rather than having been vexed by my placing of the original sticker, its removal had been undertaken in order to reopen the channel. That the symbol didn’t depict a rancorous eye, warding me off, but was indeed a form of sigil, showing me the ‘opening’, the gateway. I like to think that this person(s) smiles upon me, but more importantly, the project, with a beneficent gaze. Who knows, perhaps they hope that others will follow the marker, take the leap, go deep…

As well as being subjected to physical removal by hand from their original positions, a number of the UALP stickers have also been painted over. Thereby removing them from sight, but not from the vicinity. Now, in nearly all these cases, the stickers have been painted over by municipal workers who have been charged with ‘tidying up’ these spaces. To make the underpasses appear more inviting, and less threatening, to those who are anxious about using them, regardless of whether its day or night. By painting over the stickers, the workers save valuable time. However, the Romantic in me likes to think that the painters left the stickers in place, not as a time-saving measure, but in order to weave them into the very fabric of the underpasses themselves.

GATEWAYS…

16/08/20

Underpass, Kensington, Melbourne, Australia: Both images © Madeleine D’Este

23/08/20

Madeleine, our Phase 1 Field Op for Kensington, Melbourne, Australia, took the above ‘Before and After’ images of her sticker. She said something that still really resonates with me

“I was thinking that the sticker got sucked into the other realm, someone didn’t want others to know about the doorway…

Madeleine D’Este, Pers. Comm

Madeleine’s pondering upon the ‘disappearance’ of her sticker is simply, for me personally, glorious. Were the council/municipal workers even conscious of what they were doing? Or were there other forces at work, actively seeking to avert curious gazes? Manipulating others to in order to restore the balance?

This ties in wonderfully with similar occurrences taking place during the same period, but 10.5 thousand miles away to the west of Melbourne…  

26/07/20

Two images of Mead Way Underpass, Swindon, Wiltshire: Both images © Martyn Barber

28/07/20

Chatting with Martyn about the ongoing adventures surrounding the stickers he had placed within the underpass at Mead Way in Wiltshire, was another really fascinating moment for me.

“…if true, mine, (sticker) is trying to free itself from the other realm. As time passes, both the sticker and the graffiti are beginning to slowly re-emerge. I didn’t touch the surface, just in case…”

Martyn Barber, Pers. Comms

Could these two incidents, thousands of geographical miles apart, be telling us something far deeper, more potent? Are there other dimensions within this place we call Earth? Are there points of access, permeable, ‘thin’, places where it’s possible to gain entry? Are underpasses such spaces? The fact that both Madeleine and Martyn, who, to the best of my knowledge, haven’t personally conversed, used the term, ‘realm’, is really intriguing.

Was Madeleine’s sticker physically subsumed into the fabric of the underpass in Melbourne in order to prevent those not considered ‘worthy’ from exploring other dimensions? Is Martyn’s sticker actively trying to ‘escape’, to show people the way? If we want to push this line of enquiry right out beyond, (well, we do champion Wyrd Theory here in the Liminal Worlds), would it really be a bridge too far to consider the sticker re-emerging in Martyn’s underpass as actually the Melbourne sticker that’s been ‘sucked’ into the physical fabric?

Now, I can already hear you saying, “But Lady Lim, Martyn’s sticker was painted over nearly a month before Madeleine’s, and it was placed within an underpass over 10,000 miles away from Melbourne”, and never fear, I hear you. However, we are now wandering AND pondering within liminal worlds. What passes for truth, actuality, reason, out there in the so-called ‘real world’, doesn’t apply here. Within liminal worlds we are able, actively encouraged, to think beyond. Things that many people consider fixed, immutable, are, in reality, far more fluid and abstract. This fluidity not only applies to concepts of temporality, but also the physical, the built environment, amongst many other contexts. Why is it deemed permissible to consider a corridor a liminal place, but not an underpass? If you believe that an underpass is a liminal space, then why doubt the potential for a sticker to seep into an Australian underpass in August, then re-emerge in Southern England a month before?

When you see me post lines such as “Take the leap, move beyond”, or “Lose yourself to find the way”, these aren’t simple advertising straplines. They are the abstract equivalent of Public Service Announcements. Akin to how the Romantics engaged with landscape, with life. Sublime, sometimes truly terrifying, but always euphoric, experiences. If these altered states of consciousness were easily achieved, would they still hold the same allure for us? Would their grip on our imaginations be as strong? I don’t believe so. Being brave enough to stare into the void, face our fears, to actively seek out the flux, is often difficult, as well as daunting, and these anxieties aren’t just confined to our metaphysical engagements. We have to face them every day, in many different ways, ways that are often as unique to us as individuals, as they are to us as a collective. The majority have always felt uneasy around the wyrd, the wonderful, the wanderers, the ponderers, folk like us!

Perhaps this is the real reasoning behind the greater majority’s deep-seated uneasiness when entering an underpass. Subconsciously, they know what can, and does, occur within these spaces, these liminal places, and there’s nothing they can do about it. Loss of control is perhaps the greatest fear for those who hold authority over others, be it political, legal, or social. I say to them; relax, nothing within is under our control. Give yourself over to the betwixt and between, rest easy within the liminal ley, don’t fight it, feel it…

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Conrad, N. J. & Malina, M., 2015. Eine mögliche Frauenfigurinevom Holhe Fels und Neues zur Höhlennutzung im Mittel- und Jungpälaolithikum. Archäologische Ausgrabungen in Baden-Württemberg, pp. 54-59, 22 July 2015

Lambert, R., 2021. Deep Stratigraphies, Deeper Memories, Deepest Fears: How Underpasses Permeate The Netherworld, And The Mind. [Online]
Available at: www.liminalworlds.org
[Accessed 25 March 2021].

Thomas, J., 1999. Understanding The Neolithic: A Revised Second Edition of Rethinking The Neolithic. London & New York: Routledge.