WNYC News: Inside a Golden Container, Talking to Tehran

“What is your favorite book?” asked the woman.

"I don't know, maybe Catcher in the Rye," said the man.

The woman is inside a golden shipping container in the Lu Magnus Gallery in the Lower East Side. The man is in an artist's studio in Tehran, Iran. And they have never met before.

They are taking part in an art and tech project that has been happening for two weeks and ends on Friday.

The piece, called “Portals,” connects people in New York and Iran in 15-minute conversations, while they see each other on a large screen.

Amar Bakshi, a former journalist who is now attending law school, created the piece in partnership with an artist in Tehran. Bakshi he wanted to have people from different cultures interact, and that the piece achieves several goals, like “satiating our curiosity and creating these private moments in a digital world with a lot of information circulating,” he said. “We feel we have fewer opportunities to have the kind of encounter that we are hoping to promote.”

Interior of Amar Bakshi's container, where strangers in New York and Tehran have a conversation.


(Gisele Regatao)

After the conversation, people leave notes in a golden notebook and Bakshi said they often write about how much in common they have, like a shared love of Shakespeare. 

The project cost about $25,000, which Bakshi paid for with his own money, plus donations from several people. He said that one of the challenging moments was when he was working on a pilot container in his parents' backyard in Washington, D.C.

“The neighbors were quite displeased, at first they thought I had moved in there, that my parents had kicked me out and [they] were threatening to call the mayor's office,” he said, laughing.

The container was painted gold in an homage to the temples of Bakshi’s Indian ancestors.

As he wraps up the project, Bakshi is starting a kickstarter campaign and hopes to expand the piece to other cities. And he said he hasn’t forgotten — he still needs to get that container out of his parent's place.

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