Cinema in the Golden Box- The spectacle of live communication

This article will talk about Shared Studios’ interactive portal installation at Times Square that was exhibited during the Open House New York weekend on October 15th, 2017. The Portal Container is advertised as an outdoor installation that can hold up to 8 people at a time and creates the feeling of being in the same space as someone in an identical gold container somewhere else on Earth. These portals come in the form of containers, inflatable pop-ups and even school buses. The company plans to incorporate other forms of mixed media that can allow more than 8 users to interact and communicate using the concept of live stage screens, transit instillations and phone apps. There are 24 portals currently, some of them include sites like Iraq, Honduras, Australia and Kazakhstan.

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The founder of the portal, Amar Bakshi says that he works to connect members of diverse communities who would otherwise not meet in intimate environments to create their own meanings through new and non-institutionalized media. Indeed, his opening disclaimer about people’s growing hostility on social media was addressed by saying that ‘it has become impossible to strike a conversation with someone on social media if one doesn’t have material commonality with them’. He commented on the container’s mode of operation by stating that the most optimal method of utilizing the space as a site of communication is to allow twenty minutes of unperturbed one-on-one talk with the user/users on the topics specified on the bulletin board. The disclaimer outside the container leaves no room for surprises when it says: ‘When you enter the portal, you’ll come face-to-face, live and full body with someone in an identical space somewhere else on earth’

The idea of an elusive portal as an essential ‘meeting space’ seemed like a departure from the screen as an expanded cinematic adventure since it’s ideation relies heavily on ideas of communication instead of cinematic pleasures. The portal maintains the exclusivity of a boxed space by claiming that one must enter the technologically equipped space to experience communication with someone across the world. In certain ways, the assertion that the gold box helps individuals connect is somewhat cryptic and self-serving, and yet there are some observable merits of the gold box structure.

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The dynamic of the portal is severely contrasted with the hypermediacy at Times Square- there is an exaggerated sense of stillness of time within the container. Brian O’Doherty compliments the exclusivity of the boxed space by calling it a pristine ‘survival compound’ that banishes any temporal specificity of the user. He further mentions that the institutionalization of the cube diminishes the spectator’s senses except the ocular, turning them into ‘cardboard cutouts’ with reduced forms of life- e.g. in this case, the spectator’s uninterrupted 20-minute conversation with others is as reductive and mechanical as someone who partakes in cult rituals (1).

On the other hand, Walt Whitman employs the metaphor of the screen to address the quasi-public / quasi-private nature of the spectatorial experience in boxed spaces by speaking of ‘bodies sheltered together in a communal act of spectatorship, but also bodies made visible to one another as spectacle’. Whitman’s furthers his argument by saying that the conditions of a darkened enclosure directly heighten one’s directedness of perception (2). Similarly, the gold box paradigm can be discussed using Sontag’s notion of ‘cutting back content that allows us to recover our senses- to see more, to hear more, to feel more.’ (3)  In lieu of these opinions, one must wonder if the architectural constraints of the gold box override spectatorial subjectivity (as O’Doherty mentions) or do they enhance the senses through creative use of space (as Whitman and Sontag mention)?

Simone Forti’s perception of the screen as a membrane- a semipermeable boundary that grants one passage between two distinct spaces- seems like an apt and less radical metaphor for the boxed space since the gold box standard doesn’t subjugate viewer premonitions about spaces like these (4). The audience is the subject and the object of spectacle at the same time and one does not diminish the role of the other. One can experience an uncanny doubling of real as well as phantasmal projection in which the affective nature of the spectator’s investment is foregrounded. In this case, the user interactions within the box quickly turned into other socio-political/ geographical/ cultural conversations which is proof of the idea that the audience isn’t always haplessly elusive only because the gold box is.

On another note, it was striking to see that the golden portal is concerned with looking a certain way, which draws the spectator’s initial attention towards the medium than the message. However, it is also a testament to the artist’s autonomy that is free of the contaminating tentacles of mass media- especially at a site like Times Square. The individuals on the other side of the portal are situated inside a golden box as well- a cultureless shipping container that enhances the feeling of communality only through the liveness of interaction and the audience’s inescapability from the container. One might argue that the experience of the gold box makes the experience of liveness seem ‘affective’ because there is no material proof that the person you’re communicating with is indeed halfway across the world because of their own inherent ‘boxed’ personas.

As a spectator and communicator, it felt as if the singularity of the gold box and the mode of communication within it was both striking and discomforting. The projections inside the portal deserved to be abstracted in some way to heighten the sense of speaking to a global audience. There also seemed an excessive amount of control displayed with who one may talk to or what one may talk about. One must wonder if the artistic ‘gold box’ autonomy takes away from spectatorial heteronomy.

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Article written by Badal Thakker, Blogpost Assignment FA’17_Interactive Media Class, NYU.

Bibliography:

  1. ODoherty, Brian. Inside the white cube: the ideology of the gallery space. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.
  2. Sobchack, Vivian. The address of the eye: a phenomenology of film experience. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2009.
  3. Sontag, Susan. A Susan Sontag reader. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1983.
  4. Uroskie, Andrew V. Between the black box and the white cube: expanded cinema and postwar art. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.
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