Portal: The Letters

"... yours in space and time."

Portal: The Letters is a continuation of Portal: The Disappearance of Francis Lain; a collaborative project between Marianne Thesen Law (Max) and Felix Kawitzky, which began in 2016 as part of the Open Dialog Box project space series. The first iteration of the project takes the form of a docu-fiction, following a Cape Town-based collective of portal hunting anarchists called the Warp Demons, in the aftermath of their comrade Francis Lain’s mysterious disappearance.

Portal: The Letters is a fragmented extension of this narrative, in which the themes of interdimensional travel, astral projection, digital disappearance and magical mutation are explored further. In the Portal universe, it is one year after Francis Lain was reported missing, and the Warp Demons are no closer to finding them.

Since the release of our first documentary, we have received a number of letters detailing similar stories of interdimensional disappearance and paranormal vanishment.We decided to create an online archive of these experiences, and publicly invite others to share their stories. Some of the letters come from the London contingent of portal hunters, each of whom has their own approach to ways of accessing portals and paranormal phenomena, whilst some come from unaffiliated interdimensional explorers and other unknown sources. These letters take the form of written contributions (including theoretical, discursive and poetic writing), video submissions, interviews, and drawings.

The transition from linear documentary to fragmented, interactive narrative will be facilitated by a crucial addition to the Portal universe – a chatbot (or “PortalBot”) available on the landing page of the website. Diegetically, the portal bot has been developed by Interdimensional Photonic Engineer Radar Jones; a character from the first instalment, and has been programmed to draw out clues which will help her, and other portal hunters, come a little closer to discovering other dimensions.

PortalBot serves two purposes – one, as a metafunctional librarian with knowledge of all the letters and content archived on the site. It will be able to recommend content to users based on what questions it is asked, recognising key words and responding as best it can via its natural language programming. The second function of PortalBot is more mysterious. Radar Jones asserts that the more PortalBot is interacted with, the better honed its portal-seeking capabilities become. Every conversation held between Portal Bot and a user reveals a unique perspective, which is then absorbed by the bot and increases its understanding of the multiverse. PortalBot becomes a repository of collective knowledge and experience – a compound intelligence able to connect to interdimensional gateways in a way that a single human mind cannot.

Portal: The Letters, in keeping with the politics of both the Warp Demons and the project as a whole, intends to expand, queer, and collectivise this space of research, allowing for a more collaborative mode of knowledge production, with our role moving away from documentarians and towards facilitators and archivists. Because of the thematic broadness of the project and the potential letters, it allows for investigation into a vast range of different ideas – from drag and genderfuck to digital camouflage, witchcraft and particle physics.

Portal Bot is also able to direct users, depending on their input, to parts of the internet off of the site and away from the archive of letters. Because Portal Bot is an experimental program, still in its gestational phase, it does not always respond in ways that are predictable or logical. The frequency with which it directs users away from the site is not built into it intentionally, but rather is a type of processing glitch, simultaneously undermining and making complex its role as librarian or guide, and exposing the gaps in its capabilities to understand and respond to input. One can find virtual doorways; passages to other resources - all of which have relevance and weight in regards to the Portal site itself - in these glitches. This, in a way, points to a decentralisation of knowledge, widening the scope of what types of knowledge are pertinent not only to portal research, but to the theoretical and academic framing of interdimensional travel itself. This reflects the vastness and diffuseness of the knowledge and experience of the Warp Demons and Felix K’s London contingent too, indicating that the ways in which these dimensional gaps may be found - and how they might look - vary as much as human experience and trauma.

List of known contributors:

Linda Stupart
Umber Ghauri
Lewis Walters
Marc Sacks
Alana Blignaut
Genna Gardini
Ariel Kawitzky
Oscar Keogh
Ameera Conrad
Mitchell Gilbert-Messina

Marianne Thesen Law (b. 1994) is a Cape Town based writer and interdisciplinary artist. They work mainly with video, text and performance, with a thematic focus on language, communication, bodies, death, ghosts, sex and work. This practice is foregrounded by an attempt to circumvent, as much as possible, the market. Since graduating from the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2016, they have been working as an art writer and have performed work in Cape Town and London. They currently work as a tutor at Michaelis, and are in the process of creating DIY art spaces outside of established institutional parameters in Cape Town.

Felix Kawitzky is an artist and writer working in performative, relational and text-based formats. They graduated with their BAFA from the Michaelis School of Fine Art at UCT in 2012, and a Master’s degree in Theatre Making from UCT’s Drama Department in 2015 with distinction.

They have written and run Live Action Role Plays and conversational games; and designed, run and facilitated writers’ workshops and other fictional exchanges as part of their practice. Their work experiments with language games and collective storytelling as a way of stimulating heightened, imaginative communication.

Their research looks at how the relationships between science fiction, world-building, roleplaying and escapism can be combined to simulate alternative socio-political systems, utopias, atopias and dystopias.

They currently work as a tutor and lecturer at the University of Cape Town.