Modern technologies have in many ways made the world a small space: we can travel quickly, communicate instantaneously and see live video footage of anything, anywhere. But the prejudices and assumptions we make about cultures we don’t understand still pervade. Shared Studios, a San Francisco-based multidisciplinary art, design and technology collective, are encouraging strangers to connect via their inventive Portals Project.
The project allows for two people (or groups) in two different parts of the world to have a short conversation via two shipping containers. The key to the project's success so far has been its ability to create empathetic links.
Founding member of Shared Studios, Yale law student Amar Bakshi explains that shipping containers were the perfect stage for the portals: they are universally recognised, provide a uniform and private space and represent the movement of the things around the world.
When a visitor walks in, they see a projected life-size image of their portal counterpart on the back wall of the container. The projection is created through live video and audio and the two participants can have live conversation and even make direct eye contact.
The first portal was a connection between New York and Tehran and Shared Studios explained that if you can create a bond between America and Iran then you create connections anywhere.
During the time the portal was live people shared stories of their daily lives, musicians collaborated on a song, a filmmaker in New York gave advice to a film student in Tehran and school kids asked each other about what sixth grade was like.
Since those first two containers portals have been popping up all over the world. There are active portals in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe; Havana, Cuba: Isfahan, Iran; Heart, Afghanistan; Mexico City, Mexico; New York, US; Tehran, Iran; and the Za’atari Camp for Syrian refugees. Anyone can contact Shared Studios to initiate setting up a portal in their city.
Shared Studios hopes to put portals in institutions such as universities, schools and hospitals so that people can continue to share their stories and thoughts.