A Jerusalem Shipping Container Becomes a Portal For Empathy
JERUSALEM—The container is a metallic gold, manned by a woman with equally bright braided hair in a marigold dress. A quick glance and you might think the scene is from Alice in Wonderland—Alice having just fallen into an extended universe, her entrance marked by the dramatic carpet of wooden chips on the floor of HaMiffal. The difference is this: in HaMiffal (“the factory”), this graceful Alice is ushering visitors into a rabbit hole without tumbling herself.
The enigmatic cuboid which she mans reads: “Shared Studios: This gold container equipped with immersive audiovisual technology is a portal.” The container door is half open, but blackout curtains obscure the view and heighten the allure. People are milling about, asking if they may have a trip into obscurity. “Also, what is this?” they ask with some apprehension.
Port JLM—advertised by the organizers of Mekudeshet as a “port from which to set sail and meet inspiring people from local and distant points of the map” — is part performance, part social agent for the most unlikely of caucuses. This is how it works: Shared_Studios, a multidisciplinary art, design and technology collective based out of New Lab in Brooklyn, has equipped the standard shipping container with high definition video streaming capabilities. It’s a life-sized Skype, but you’re not just using it to call your partner or go for a company-wide conference call; in Jerusalem, the ports are boundary, dissolving containers that allow participants to reach into countries and talk to people who otherwise cannot meet the Israelis for a face-to-face conversation, because of border conflict and restrictions, passport issues, and poverty.
One afternoon session saw a group of Israeli children sharing a meal with Arab child refugees from Erbil, Iraq, with the tables synced up visually to form one coherent, long dining table on both the Jerusalem and Erbil screens. In this private dining session for the young members of society, the groups of Jewish and Arabic children were able to come away with saying they shared one meal together — many of their parents might not ever do so, in their lifetime.
In another session, Jerusalemites were able to participate in a video interview with Amos Dos Silver, the kingpin of Israel’s weed empire “Telegrass.” Cannabis is still illegal in Israel, so Dos Silver now operates his business remotely from the United States, where he is based. Dos Silver, born as a haredi Jew, moved to Jerusalem and chose to be secular, and is now an advocate for cannabis legalization in Israel. Yet unable to talk to Israelis in person, he resorts to the shared studio screen to field questions from the country men who are also his clients.
In the evening, artists from Israel and Kigale, Nairobi, entered the studio together and painted in tandem. As the night progressed, a DJ from Nairobi commanded the tunes and worked the crowd in Israel.
The co-mingling worlds which exist in parallel for the same moments in time are an artistic vision of an open Jerusalem, where borders, so often a source of conflict in the holy city, are rendered invalid and invisible. The most obscure, unlikely scenes are paired and merged together all from a standard shipping container.
They do not have to all hold hands and sing “Kumbayah,” but for one moment, they can put aside nationality and locale. The most inclusive architecture does not necessarily have to be an open glass box with multiple areas of entry and accessibility, with people streaming in and out, exchanging comments about the weather. Sometimes it can happen in a closed box when the virtue of the design decrees that it reach over to the people who are not talked to, not heard, who cannot pass by free streets and comment on the weather, who are—by their social situation and standing—cemented in their location; it can make the geographic location completely unnecessary, bring people together regardless of time zone or faith or eating habits—that’s the kind of architecture that is worth it, and that the future should hold more of.
Featured image of Jerusalem via Wikipedia Commons. All other photos by the author.