Isfahan_Portal at Va Gallery
Our Portal was located at Va Gallery, an independent, woman-run arts space focused on experimental and video art. In addition to hosting roving shows, Va organizes exhibitions, workshops, performances, and talks. Va also runs a residency program, which has hosted a number of national and international artists, critics and writers. The artists behind Va are deeply plugged into the cultural scene in Isfahan, which is in turn the cultural capital of Iran.
A global art project recently came to D.C., bringing visitors face-to-face with strangers in Afghanistan, Iran and Cuba. Hundreds of people signed up online to book 20-minute-long one-on-one conversations in the Portal, a shipping container outfitted with video, audio and Internet.
We recently stood at a door in New York. We walked through that door and faced a person inside Iran. That was the concept of an art installation which started in New York and whose creators hope to take it elsewhere. They invited us to try. Walk into a common steel shipping container painted gold.
BBC Persian reports in Farsi on the Tehran-NYC Portal.
When I went to Tehran in 2011 to interview then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, relations with the U.S. were at a low, and distrust between the two nations was at a high. So it was unsurprising that Iran's leader played to type perfectly, spouting nasty rhetoric when he sat down with me.
On Friday morning, a portal opened between New York City and Tehran. For the next two weeks, people in either city can walk into a scale-replica of a shipping container outfitted with an AV connection to the other city and have a live, impromptu chat with a stranger partway around the globe. The project is called A Portal Between Tehran and NYC.
"So full in the light. Here. The Portal is a gift of presence, connection and oneness. I am so grateful to begin this day – in this way with a connection to a community of artists, a family of free thinkers. What a reflection of intention! What a powerful medium. So happy to be a part of this quiet, personal, passionate revolution of connection. So moved by the practice of our oneness. In the light. So full. Here. Best as ever, Sharese Bullock-Bailey"
“Amazing, incredible profoundly beautiful and connective experience. This is a terribly important art exhibit that instantly breaks down the arbitrary barriers that we put up between cultures and people. This is exactly what social media technology should be used for. It’s a beautiful, gorgeous bridge that I hope to see crossing more boundaries in the future. I am grateful and honored to be part of this art exhibit. Yours truly, Kwadwo ADAE"
"I really enjoyed speaking in the portal this morning. I had the opportunity to meet Mahsa, a woman photographer in grad school. As a photographer myself, we had a lovely conversation about one role at being a photographer and the difficulties that can come with that (especially for her in Tehran). I love the idea of the portal – stepping into the darkened container and making a connection with someone overseas. I love how successful the portal is in connecting 2 strangers. We use technology all day long and yet we can still feel a disconnect. The portal, in its simplicity, defies that. Thank you! Jessica"
“Today is my 46th birthday so I wanted to do something special to mark the day so here I am! It’s such a great idea to connect people from different parts of the world. I really enjoyed my conversation my partner in Iran is a 3rd year engineering student who plays blues guitar! We exchanged contact info so I look forward to continuing the conversation in the future. Thanks so much for setting this up. I’ll never forget this day!”
"Last night, prior to entering the portal, I spoke to a friend about what I was doing today and he led me to a chat website, Omegle, were somewhat similarly to portal strangers meet. Unlike Portals, they meet for a variety of different motives, some flashing, in an altogether different concept. Not much respect, lots of inappropriate things, sex, trash talk etc. With Portal, the medium itself is of far more interest. Internet communications have allowed people to do this for years, but the context of the internet leads for a centre of profanity. By removing this technology from that context and placing it in “art” and making a physical space, Portal invents a purer experience. -Henry Wolf"
"The Portal worked perfectly, like magic, I was transported to the life of a young photographer who is propelling herself toward studies in the US. We soon swapped stories of our travels and interests and as cliché as it sounds, we are all one community. I look forward to staying connected with this lovely and talented woman. Carol"
"With all the experiences I’ve had as an Iranian American and as a part of this community, this experience was unimaginable and incredible. I had a conversation with a complete stranger, someone who I would normally never meet. Thank you for organizing this experience. Please do it more! I can’t wait to meet someone from another place. There was a moment when all I wanted to do was jump through our boxes and see his street and show mine. So we told each other about the weather and painted an image for each other. Mana"
Today is my birthday and I thought the best way to spend it was to “go” somewhere else. That somewhere else is here at the portal. I spoke to a wonderful artist who was photography as portraiture and projection amazing conversation about the process that we use as an artist to make work and what it means and what it can look like. I ful like and made a friend today. Best birthday present I could get."
"It was absolutely beautiful. I wish this was compulsory education in high schools. If more people spent time interacting with people in other countries it might help address a multitude and issues. My conversation was full of joy and surprises – we had a few in common with each other – she studied cinema and scriptwriting, like me. We talked about film, documentary, independent cinema, and life in general. We talked about what it meant to be free, and she said she needed to live somewhere where she could write and create art with freedom. It was exceptionally moving – I want to do more! Ishita"
"Dear Portal, I have been sitting by your side for the last two weeks, listening to the thoughts of all the people who have shared in your experience: passersby, students, professors, lawyers, artists, children and even a snorty bulldog named Winnie. It has been such a gift to be witness to a growing, maturing, loving way of being in this young world. I felt different. I feel bigger and smaller at the same time, knowing how I was a part of Herat, a place I have never been, for this short time. And those on the other side, I feel such camaraderie for them! What will I do without Omid and Said every morning? I know this time has made a difference hundreds on people's’ lives, me being one of them. I want to go visit Afghanistan! Keep doing what you do, because it is important and it works. I’ll miss you, but hopefully I will see you later! Love"
"This experience was so eye-opening. Inside the portal, time and place fade away. I met Susan, a budding fashion designer who love her friends. She is inspired by art and music and the TV show 2 broke girls. It felt like we were in the same strange room, existing in a place other than where we physically were. I’m so grateful to have had this experience. Thank you for giving us this opportunity. -Caroline A"
"I had the pleasure of speaking with the very delightful Human (Hooman) Amiri – a 23 year old Art painting Student at the University of Tehran. What a cutie patootie!! I was taken aback by how easily we connected – what an amazing experience! Human told me about his “girlfriend” and that he was really excited about the future of their relationship as a typical older Iranian woman, even though I was born and raised in the USA. I naturally fell into the position of giving relationship advice!
I was almost embarrassed that I felt it my place to chime in – but he was ecstatic! Continuing to tell me that he bought her a nice gift for her birthday almost in hopes of my praise and approval! How endearing and cute! His innocence and passion came through us vividly and were so symbolic of what I love and admire about Iranian people and youth in particular.
The time seemed to go by way too fast and perhaps the encounter was so sweet because of its rapidly fleeting moments. We exchanged contacts and I told Human I expected an invitation to his wedding! Ending by giving him a comfortably characteristic pep talk – ensuring him that his drive, spunk and kind demeanor will get him far. Whether in his goals for his art and painting career or his relationship with his current love interest. Human had not expected an Iranian American on the other side of the portal and I had expected to disappoint my Iranian counterpart by being a “boring Iranian”. But in reality we were both (at least I think he was too) very pleasantly surprised! I look forward to keeping in touch. Thank you to the beautifully artistic and interestingly “human” experience. I can’t wait until there is a beautiful Golden Portal in every city around the world. Here’s one step closer to a more unified, tight knit, loving world and human race. To Human!"
"This is ART "