The theme was thresholds: physical or metaphorical, small or great, looming ahead, just underfoot, or behind you. Physically and literally, a threshold is a floor or entrance, or the strip of wood on the floor under a door. Like the words window or gateway, the word threshold also bears symbolic, analogical, poetic and metaphysical meaning. It can indicate the level at which something starts to happen (‘threshold of boredom’) or the point at which something starts (‘threshold of adulthood’).
Threshold has taken on new meaning in a time when we still can’t cross the thresholds of other homes, and soon after a time when we could barely cross our own thresholds to get outside.
As the limit between here and there, outside and inside, thresholds have taken on other meanings depending on their context: brink, verge, dawn, doorway, edge, entrance, gate, inception, origin, outset, point, still, point of departure, starting point.
When the Transept artists’ group gathered a few weeks ago to respond to this theme, each artist brought a different interpretation.
- Jonathan Selstad discussed his short-story-in-progress, set at a campfire on a starry night in Yosemite. His work explores the thresholds in and between various stages of life (middle school, high school, and adulthood), communities, worldviews, and friendships.
- Julia Turner shared abstract sketches. Her whimsical lines and curves, bright pastels or dark charcoal, and artful smudging explored the concept of thresholds as moving forward rather than limiting or restricting, or ‘starting again with new understanding’:
- Karlee Lillywhite showed us a draft of an illustration she was working on based on a Scandanavian ballad, ‘Agnete and the Sea King’. She explored the thresholds between land and sea, old home and new home, confinement, and freedom. She gathered some feedback from the group about the framing and concept. The final result has exquisite composition, graceful form, and contrasts dark shadows with bright gold and glimmering reflections:
- I shared the theme of my short-story-in progress, which centers on the thresholds of All Saints Day (November 1): the boundary between sea and land, night and day, living and dead, known and unknown.
- Dan Drage shared one element of his installation for the 2019 spring exhibition, a blank canvas overlaid upon the cobbled threshold into St Mary’s Quad to collect the footsteps of those who passed through.
- Karen Kiefer shared her contribution to the 2019 spring exhibition, space( )between, which also served as a ‘container’ and stage set for the space( ) between Encounters theatrical performance. Her piece, entitled Khôra, reflects on the womb-like, expectant space of Holy Saturday in relation to Plato’s idea of khôra, or the world from which eternal Forms emerge — a paradox of empty space and endless possibility, fear and hope, hesitancy and longing.
- Zebediah Rose shared his poem ‘Harlequin at the Threshold’, and let its song-like rhythm fill our minds with images of harlequins, dancing children, hearthfires, nights in the snow, longing and homecoming. Here is a small piece of it:
A child was dancing inside of a home
And a piper gave life to his song –
He found out from where all the laughter had come,
At the threshold where he stopped to wait.
- Jane Pettegree shared a delightful poem by Alexander Montgomerie, ‘The Cherrie and the Slae’, by singing three verses of it. She also shared her sonnet ‘Water Sequence 3’, written on the Lade Braes (an old mill lade here in St. Andrews). Her diction and imagery capture the threshold-crossing power of the water and the intricate beauty of the countryside, as you can see in the first quatrain:
Through mud and stones its fingers probe and search
Leaving the fields in twisted, liquid spurts
And gathering along the lades and streams it darts
Through weedy shoals where fishing birds are perched…
Threshold has taken on new meaning in a time when we still can’t cross the thresholds of other homes, and soon after a time when we could barely cross our own thresholds to get outside. Like space, distance, and household, threshold has a connotation of anxiety, uncertainty, and longing in this season. The liminal space between here and there, now and not yet, which was always fearful (as Karen Kiefer discusses in her work on Khôra) is now charged with a specific danger and uncertainty.
Paradoxically, fear and the unknown are a space of mystical potential and possibility. While we navigate the thresholds of this season — avoiding forbidden thresholds, exploring new metaphysical ones — visual art, poetry, short stories, exhibitions, performances and songs can hold that moment of transformation and liminality like a child who catches a just-shaken snow globe in cupped hands, with a gaze that turns fear into wonder.