Thirteen Portals to Art

IMG_9110Dana VarinskyArtists Nicolina Johnson and Perola Bonfanti at “Portal 0”

Two abandoned doorways got a touch up this week, thanks to artists Nicolina Johnson and Perola Bonfanti.

The artists told The Local that the new installations at Avenue C and Seventh Street, and Second Ave and Third Street, are the first of a series of thirteen interactive “portals” that will be completed this summer. The portals will be numbered starting from zero, with each painted according to the numerology symbols associated with its number.

A QR code painted on the bottom of every portal directs the participant to the project’s website, which requires answers to riddles in order to move on to the next portal. The link for “Portal One” asks, “the more you look at me, the less you see. Who am I?”

IMG_9106Dana Varinsky“Portal 0”

“When you get through the final portal, the 13th portal, the mystery will be revealed,” Ms. Johnson said. “We think it will be well worth the effort.” Those without a smart phone will also be able to participate via the project’s website, which will be incorporated into the art in each panel.

Ms. Johnson is the creator of The Bean’s window art, so she said the location of “Portal 0” over an abandoned elevator shaft outside the café was an easy choice. The three panel doorway is painted with Babylonian images, and the circular zero figure represents a particle accelerator. “It mixes the newest science and the oldest civilizations,” Ms. Bonfanti explained.

Ms. Johnson is also the force behind the Free Art Society, which is dedicated to keeping art alive in the East Village. The group is best known for its annual Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in Tompkins Square Park.

“We liked the idea of creating a mystery in the East Village,” Ms. Johnson said, adding, “we really love thinking of art that interacts with people, so we’re hoping to engage the public in this mystery.”

Ms. Johnson and Ms. Bonfanti painted the portals on paper using a mixture of materials, including acrylic paint, dry pastel and charcoal. They installed them after the design was complete, and covered them with a thick layer of varnish to ensure the panels do not fade.

The artists first worked together on a project in Rio de Janeiro, where Ms. Bonfanti is originally from. They thought of the portals idea while walking around the East Village four months ago. “We were like, ‘oh that’s a nice spot, that’s a nice spot,’” Ms. Johnson said. “There were all these abandoned doors.” She added that the tall doorway on 7th and C, which is now covered in Aztec and Egyptian imagery of the sun, was their original inspiration.

Ms. Johnson and Ms. Bonfanti are planning to return to Brazil to complete the rest of the panels in Ms. Bonfanti’s studio there. They intend to start a Kickstarter campaign in the spring to fund the project, and are hoping for neighborhood support. “If people are going through the game together, they are connected,” Ms. Johnson said.