Since July, a gold-painted shipping container in Crissy Field has let everyday San Franciscans have 20-minute video chats with people anywhere from Afghanistan and Mexico to Germany to Rwanda.
The Crissy Field Portal, as it’s called, is the work of Washington DC-based artist lab Shared Studios. The repurposed container connects to other video portals around the world and facilitates conversation between strangers. Users sign up via a website, and if need be an interpreter helps out.
Sometimes folks just chat about their lives. Other times things get a little more whimsical.
“You could dance, sing, draw, read stories; the possibilities are endless,” according to the Portal FAQ.
San Francisco’s first crowd-funded Portal came to Hayes Valley in 2015. The Crissy Field communication container is scheduled to depart September 24. However, the Presidio Trust announced via a press release that the great golden box bearing the treasure of human interaction will get an extension, moving from Crissy Field to the Presidio’s Main Post from October 1 until October 30.
Amar Bakshi, an artist and writer who’s worked for the Washington Post and as an assistant to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, conceived of the Portal idea after reflecting on the conversations he had as a journalist once interviews were over.
“I had the freedom to ask whatever I wanted,” Bakshi told the Daily Dot, later translating that experience of conversational freedom between unlikely people into Portal starting in late 2014.
The container weighs roughly 8,000 pounds and measures 20’x8’x8’. Bakshi says the container design is meant to ensure that Portals in every country are identical, putting the users on equal footing.
Presently there are 20 portals in operation, including eight in the United States. In Palestine, the startup accelerator Gaza City Geeks maintains one. The Catholic University of Eastern Africa hosts one in Nairobi, while the LA Law Library keeps one in Los Angeles.