20 June 2017 – Kigali – On this day, the world marked World Refugee Day, joining to recognize the lives of refugees from all around the world. In Kigali, Shared Studios, an American NGO, partnered with the Rwandan NGO Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga to host a Portal™ event at the Impact Hub. Portals are spaces equipped with immersive audiovisual technology which brings people from connecting locations face-to-face. These spaces facilitate cross-cultural communication and understanding.
LOS ANGELES (CN) – Inside the gleaming dark gold shipping container in LA’s Grand Park, the three art students giggled uneasily. They sat in a room carpeted from floor to ceiling in charcoal gray, facing a screen that showed two Iraqi men, Muhammad and Rami, sitting on lime-green plastic chairs in a similarly enclosed space.
Thousands of commuters buzz by it; dozens more see it from the Starbucks line less than 100 feet away. But only a few enter this gold box in the middle of downtown Los Angeles' Grand Park.
"That was amazing," Bernadine Harris said as she stepped out of the shipping container covered in gold paint.
Moments before, she was speaking live to an Iraqi refugee standing in front of her — on a large video screen.
After a few moments in the waiting area, Jason Mangold was instructed to enter a gold painted, shipping container-like device. The business developer had traveled from Chicago to Mission but decided to make a visit to a new attraction at Mission’s Center for Education and Economic Development (CEED) Building. After closing the curtains behind him. Mangold stood in front of an 8 by 10 foot video screen, and waited. On a chilly evening 7,000 miles away, Omar Al Shafai walked from the Migration Hub Network in downtown Berlin, Germany to a similar shipping container in front of the migration center.
Amar Bakshi is an artist and the creator of Shared_Studios, a multidisciplinary art collective that connects people across all forms of distance. In 2014, the studio launched Portals, which uses custom spaces, usually gold shipping containers, equipped with audio-visual technology to allow participants to converse with others in identical spaces around the world. Since launching, more than 25,000 people have spoken to one another through Portals spread across twenty countries, including participants such as Barack Obama and artist Tania Bruguera. Amar is a graduate of Harvard University and also holds degrees from Johns Hopkins and Yale Law School.
According to Shared Studios’ founder Amar Bakshi, “the idea is to create a global network of these publicly accessible one-on-one booths”. Imagine that! Once facing your opposite number, you can more or less do what you want – aided by a curator/translator staffing each Portal, you can talk about your day, the weather, your childhood, or if you like just sit there in silence … the beauty of Portals is that the interactions are essentially pressure-less. There is no agenda other than to spend time with each other. To exchange ideas. To learn from a stranger precisely because of everything you don’t know about them. And, best of all, to genuinely engage with somebody in a way that most other social networks – for all the vastness of their reach – actively discourage.
"The context of art is critical to Portals. The contemporary gallery absolutely is not. Portals is a global public artwork that can exist only because there is a common global understanding of at least one definition of art that positions art as de-instrumentalized, without purpose, without objective measure of its worth. This vision has been nurtured by museums, galleries, art schools, collectors, fairs, public art institutions, and others. Now, because of their work, Portals can exist as art outside the art world institutions as long as participants understand it as such."
Developed in 2014 by Shared_Studios, there are now more than 20 Portals located around the world. They provide participants with an opportunity to meet individuals from entirely different backgrounds and cultures. The immersive technology and enclosed setting transcends popular video technologies. When President Obama experienced the Portal at the 2016 Entrepreneurship Summit he said, “It seems like you’re standing right in front of me.”