From June 5th to 21st, Washingtonians will have a rare social opportunity: step into a large, gold shipping container, connect instantly with Cuba and have a 20-minute conversation with a Habanero. (That’s a person from Havana—I had to ask Google.)
The name of the project is Portals: A Global Public Art Project and it is the brainchild of Amar C. Bakshi and his art collective Shared_Studios. You may have heard of their already very successful, Kickstarter-funded Portal installations in NYC and Tehran, New Haven and Tehran and Washington D.C. and Herat, Afghanistan (Georgetown University and Hariwa University).
This is how it works: you step into the gold shipping container here in DC, and at the same time, a person in Havana steps into a gold shipping container. Though more than one thousand miles separate you, immersive audio-visual technology helps create the illusion that you are standing in front of one another. Then, a prompt, “what would make today a good day for you?”, helps to kick things off. Conversations in the Portal have left participants in varying emotional states, from giddy to weeping—and topics of conversation have ranged from food and family to love and loss.
According to an interview with Bakshi on BLOUINARTINFO.com earlier this year, the idea for Portals came from his years as a Washington Post reporter. He spent a lot of time traveling the US by bus, with no tech distractions, which meant he spent hours in conversation with strangers. In his words (from the interview):
“In those evening hours, we spoke with a rare focus. We were decontextualized. Time was capped. We were unlikely to see one another again, or even remember one another’s name. I found those conversations among the most meaningful of my life. What I loved most about those conversations was how they were relatively de-instrumentalized. I was not seeking a job, a date or a news story. I was just passing the time, entertaining myself and satiating my basic, human curiosity in the lives of other people.”
You can bet that plenty of Washingtonians have their hearts set on a 20-minute gab sesh in the Portal. Starting Sunday, May 31st, reservations (it’s free!) can be made at www.SharedStudios.com. The Portal will be located downtown at Woodrow Wilson Plaza.