This summer, 13 Portals invited intrepid explorers to discover the nooks and crannies of New York City’s East Village as part of an interactive street art game. The idea was to combine street art, technology, and alchemy into hand-painted portals inspired by ancient civilizations. Every Saturday, a new portal would arise and become part of the public game, always accompanied by small, impromptu theatrical live performances.

True to New York’s inclusive spirit, the project was open to all citizens and visitors. Participants were encouraged to pass through all of the game’s 13 portals by solving specific tasks. The portals themselves contained hidden symbols with a secret QR code to be scanned by the participants. After initial online registration, the players were asked to answer a question or complete a task, facing escalating difficulty or complexity levels with each stage of the game. Once a task was accomplished, players would find out about the next portal’s location, following a predetermined pattern to reach – and pass through – the 13th and final portal. As a special treat, successful finalists got access to insights into the artworks’ underlying story and mystery.

While this might sound odd and a touch geeky, the 13 Portals project became one of the most inspiring community-building art interventions to date. Both artists not only brought their experience to bear, but also involved locals to create a street art environment that transcends mere urban embellishment or historical reference for a truly encompassing, thoughtful, participatory project that brought a smile and spark to the East Village during the summer months.

After all, Perola and Nicolina – who initially met in Rio de Janeiro while working on the FlutuArte project (see previous coverage here) – had experienced first-hand how little it takes to revive lifeless areas and abandoned neighborhoods through street art.

In this spirit,13 Portals is another great example backing Banksy’s (also featured lately) argument for the legalization of street art in New York. And if you don’t want to miss out on any future interventions by the Free Art Society, simply follow their facebook page or bookmark their website. Their East Village portals are still around – and hopefully open for replay in the near future!

Text: Frank R. Schröder
All photos, incl. the header image: Manny Inoa