When scanning the day’s headlines, it often seems like race, politics, religious beliefs increasingly separate the world and pretty much everything else. For many, this feeling of isolation only increased under the pressure of a worldwide pandemic, adding to the feeling that humanity was becoming irreversibly fractured.
To help mend some of those broken fences and hopefully remind the world’s citizens that despite our differences, we are all living on the same drop of dirty rainwater, a charitable foundation and its visionary founder have combined cutting edge art and modern technology to build a technological ‘bridge’ between cities.
Called ‘pOrtals,’ the installation involves two giant, circular screens [which are eerily reminiscent of the Stargate featured in the TV series and movie of the same name) that employ high-resolution cameras to create a virtual ‘window’ between a pair of European cities nearly 400 miles apart. And according to the installation’s founders, this is just the first step in a more significant effort to help reconnect the people of Earth.
“I was deeply touched by numerous conflicts, and hatred virally spreading online and also saddened by all the suffering that is happening in our planet – be it opportunity inequality, climate change, war or famine,” said Benediktas Gylys, the founder of the Benediktas Foundation and the pOrtals inventor, in an email to The Debrief. “I felt that it’s not a lack of brilliant scientists, technology, or resources that are causing this, it’s tribalism, all these artificially generated conflicts seeking to divide and conquer.”
The pOrtals project, he said, will hopefully begin to change that.
Background: The pOrtals Project
In that same email, Gylys told The Debrief that the idea first came to him in 2016 while having lunch with his cousin. That discussion about an increasingly divided world started him on a five-year journey that would culminate in the pair of massive circular screens in a train station in Vilnius, Lithuania, both the country and foundation’s capital and in the city square of Lublin, Poland.
Of course, Gylys admits there was a lot of skepticism when the idea was just “a .pdf file and some 3d renders.” Fortunately, he said, they ultimately received support from their local mayor Remigijus Šimašius, and then later the entire city, by winning the ‘Create for Vilnius” competition, which provided 30% of the funding needed to complete the first phase of the project. “We [suddenly knew] were not the only ones who believed in the project,” said Gylys of the contest win and local mayoral support, “and as you know, five years is a long period of time that raises doubts and negative thoughts from time to time, sometimes often.”
Still, even with the local support, the pOrtals project would require two locations to be brought to life. Luckily, the team received interest from a Polish city a mere 376 miles away, just close enough and yet also just far enough away to demonstrate the project’s societal benefits accurately. “We [were] also happy Lublin was brave enough to get on this journey of #pOrtacities as our first partner-city,” said Ringaile Papartyte, the Executive Director of the Gylys Foundation, in an email to The Debrief.
Analysis: The Subtle Art of Building Portals
With the contest funding in place, the balance provided by the Gylys Foundation, and official support from a pair of host cities, Gylys, Papartyte, and the entire team knew they had just one more step before they could start building their pOrtals. They needed to add an engineering group with a high level of expertise to help them realize this unprecedented dream and the outside-the-box thinkers required to take on such an aggressive project.
“For such a crazy idea, we needed a technical team that is just crazy enough to believe this concept and able to actually bring it to reality,” Papartyte told The Debrief. “This is how we ended up with Vilnius Gediminas Technical University Creativity & Innovation Centre “LinkMenu fabrikas”. We clicked from the very first meeting.”
After adding this final, critical group to their efforts, the team then set out to build their pOrtals.
“It was a challenge to draft a design for the pOrtal that is minimal & simple yet able to fit all the complex electronics inside and prevent vandalism and negative environmental impact,” Papartyte told The Debrief. “Once we figured that part out, we had a long period of testing different materials and prototyping the pOrtal.” This process, said Papartyte, culminated in the team settling on a combination of concrete, stainless steel, and tempered glass to support the electronics package.
Before long, the twin displays, or what Papartyte describes as “tech-art sculptures,” were finally finished, but both still had to be erected in their respective locations. This process, she explained, turned out to be a creative endeavor all on its own. “Logistics of the pOrtals was art itself. Two forklifts were working in perfect sync like ballet dancers in Swan Lake to gently lift and move the pOrtal.”
Once the Portals were in place and finally turned on, meaning the people standing in front of them could actually see another person hundreds of miles away, Papartyte says the reaction was both positive and immediate.
“People are extremely engaged and actively communicate through pOrtal: they come, wave to each other, make heart symbols with their palms, dance, some even try to exercise,” she said. “Everyone finds his or her way to communicate. Surprisingly, even the most serious-looking people open up and start waving with immense joy.”
Outlook: SO Stargate is basically Real Now?
In his email to The Debrief, Gylys pointed out that although the pOrtals have only been in place for two weeks, “we have already received requests from 50+ cities around the globe who want to join the network.” Papartyte echoed this sentiment, telling The Debrief, “we’ve got loads of inquiries from different cities, countries, and organizations, interested in pOrtal and willing to join #pOrtalcities.”
When asked to elaborate beyond Reykjavik, Iceland, and London, England, the two other cities hinted at on the organization’s website, Papartyte said they are discussing numerous potential collaborations and announcing the newest additions to the planned network soon. “The plan is to connect the world by a network of pOrtals in the near future,” she said. “We will offer everyone an opportunity to travel around different cultures in several minutes by changing the broadcasted city every two minutes or so.”
Gylys offered a little more insight into the thoughts behind this plan, saying, “we are going to build a network so that by visiting any portal and spending 5 minutes close to it you could connect with people from different continents and feel that we are not strangers, that we are all flying on this tiny spaceship called Earth together.”
In the end, the Lithuanian philanthropist made sure to point out that this entire effort is a non-profit and that anyone who shares his larger vision of world unity is encouraged to support the project any way they can. He also made sure to circle back (so to speak) one last time to the overarching mentality behind the project and the unity that he and the entire pOrtals team hope to foster with such a unique, captivating, high-profile effort.
“If we rose just 30-40 kilometers to the cosmos, we could see that our planet is one. It would feel stupid pointing fingers and saying, ‘this is us, this is them, this place is good, and this is bad,'” said Gylys. “It is so easy to believe we are each a wave and forget we are also the ocean. Everyone is fighting a secret battle we know nothing about, so let’s try to be more kind, generous, and spread love to people who need it the most.”
A seemingly heartfelt, and from all accounts genuine sentiment, and one that Gylys carries into his other work, it is also….wait! Incoming wormhole!
Follow and connect with author Christopher Plain on Twitter: @plain_fiction
Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, to weigh in and share your thoughts. You can also get all the latest news and exciting feature content from The Debrief on Flipboard, and Pinterest. And subscribe to The Debrief YouTube Channel to check out all of The Debrief’s exciting original shows: DEBRIEFED: Digging Deeper with Cristina Gomez –Rebelliously Curious with Chrissy Newton