“What is beautiful to you?” It's the question that curators will ask participants around the world when they step inside a large gold shipping container for a project titled Portals that seeks to interface with the global art world. The initiative, part of Art Basel Miami Beach, is taking place this week outside of the Sagamore Hotel in Miami with real-time connections to counterparts in Afghanistan, Cuba, Honduras, Iran, Mexico, and Zimbabwe.
The curatorial question on beauty is meant to inspire artistic collaboration and conversation between participants across countries and perhaps give participating countries greater insight and access to the global art industry. What if Klaus Biesenbach met an artist from Zimbabwe, or Leonardo DiCaprio, an infamous collector, met a gallery owner in Mexico?
“Portals are big gold shipping containers equipped with audio and video technology, such that when you enter one, you feel as though you are in the same room as someone in an identically constructed space abroad,” says founder Amir Bakshi. “A lot of the sites that we are working with for Art Basel Miami are really art centric. We are working with a gallery in Tehran, in Cuba it’s an arts magazine that’s leading that portal, and in Mexico the portal is right in front of an art and tech museum,” he adds.
The first portal was set up in 2012 between New York and Iran, and Bakshi, the curators and translators he works with, have gone on to organize over 8,000 art conversations. But Bakshi’s hope for Portals in Miami is that the visitors will get creative. Over the last few years, portals linked Afghanistan to San Francisco for a spoken word poetry slam, musicians from different parts of the world staged rock concerts inside them, Connecticut-based painter Titus Kaphar and Tehran-based sculptor Yousha Bashir made art together inside the space, and coders in San Francisco have even turned the portal into a coding class.
The goal is to build an interconnected global network to allow people to collaborate artistically, one that has the potential to rethink what a public art space can be. “The long-term vision for this is that it becomes a global public square, where you meet strangers,” explains Bakshi to The Creators Project. “We want to let people do what they imagine. This isn’t Skype in a box—the point is we have such incredible connective potential and there is value to talking to people you wouldn’t normally meet.”