New York City and Dublin Created a 'Virtual Bridge' With Live Cameras. It Ended With a Parade of Butts and Boobs

  • Developers wanted to create a “visual bridge” between the two cities with live screens and cameras.

  • However, they decided to shut them down temporarily after the “inappropriate behavior" of a "minority" of visitors.

The Portal
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The idea behind The Portal was fantastic on paper. It would provide a bridge between continents, a window to the other side of the Atlantic, technology at the service of human brotherhood, and more—each more exciting than the other. But when the organizers of this peculiar installation, which consisted of two XXL screens that showed what was happening simultaneously in both places, took their idea to the streets of New York City and Dublin, they found that the reality was quite different. Different and much less inspiring.

Some used the “portals” for nice gestures such as dancing, greetings, and even a marriage proposal. Others, however, insulted others, exposed themselves, or used them to show 9/11 videos. In fact, there was so much mischief that the authorities have temporarily turned off the screens.

“A visual bridge in real-time.” The idea was inspiring. Epic, even. When New York City and Dublin officials unveiled The Portal on May 8, they presented it as an “unprecedented real-time visual bridge” between the two cities in the U.S. and Ireland. And they weren’t lying.

The installation consisted of two screens roughly 8 feet wide capable of capturing and transmitting live video feeds. Its creators also decided to place them in the heart of each metropolis. In New York City, they chose the intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 23rd Street, near the Flatiron Building. In Dublin, The Portal was at the corner of North Earl Street and O’Connell Street.

A window 3,176 miles away in real-time. When people in New York City looked at The Portal, they could see what was happening live on the screen in Dublin. And vice versa. Just like an open window, only there were 3,176 miles between both points. When the Dublin City Council presented the project, they said the broadcast would be live and active 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The idea was to enable “real-time interaction between Dubliners, New Yorkers, and visitors to these two global destinations.”

Creating connections. Curious people, intrigued about what was happening on the other side of the world and anxious to communicate and even show off their culture, visited The Portal. The X account shows some examples: an Irish woman performing a céilí dance in front of a group of New Yorkers; women celebrating Mother’s Day; and people holding welcome signs and forming hearts with their hands. Even Dublin firefighters visited the screen to greet their American partners. 

In the end, The Portal's creators were replicating a formula that had worked before. Previously, they had set up the project in Lithuania and Poland, according to The Portals website.

More than just greetings. The problem is that not everyone visited The Portal with the same purpose. Some did visited to provoke people on the other side, sometimes to the limit. And if that wasn't enough, many of these gestures ended up on the Internet and quoted in international media outlets like sThe Guardian, the BBC, Time, or the New York Post, the last of which called it “the portal to hell.”

“NYC-Dublin live video art installation already bringing out the worst in people with lewd displays,” stated a headline on the New York Post a few days after The Portal’s inauguration. Similar comments could be read—likely to the annoyance of officials in both cities—in other international outlets. The discourse was also on the Internet, where people shared images, videos, and uninspiring comments.

Exhibitionism, 9/11, and more. What have people seen through The Portal? What images traveled 3,176 miles across the Atlantic? Insults, nudity, a video of the 9/11 broadcast from Dublin to viewers in New York City. 

“Surprising absolutely no one, the voyeuristic new ‘Portal’ street exhibit in the Flatiron District connecting New York City and Dublin with a 24/7 live video feed has already caused chaos—with mischief-makers on Ireland’s side flashing everything from their bare bums to swastikas and a photo of the Twin Towers in flames on 9/11,” the New York Post stated.

It didn’t take long for such scenes to appear. Shortly after the screens were unveiled, Irish police had to remove a drunk woman who was in front of The Portal, which was broadcasting live to New York City. Of course, the video of the Dublin officers went viral on social media.

It goes on and on. Of all the scandals, the most that gathered the most media attention was one involving a young woman who leaned out of the New York City Portal to show her boobs to Dubliners. 

The protagonist was Ava Louise, a model on OnlyFans, who posted a video mocking the situation and adding: “I thought the people of Dublin deserved to see two homegrown potatoes from New York.” Nevertheless, it wasn't the first act of exhibitionism. The Daily Mail showed a young man dropping his pants and flashing his butt.

The solution: a (temporary) shutdown. The result was as expected. After seeing images of 9/11 and nudity circulating on social media, the organizers decided to act. On Tuesday, Dublin authorities announced they would shut down the camera at 10 p.m. while the organizers looked for ways to save the project.

“The team behind The Portal art sculpture … has been investigating possible technical solutions to inappropriate behavior by a small minority of people,” Irish authorities explained. They pointed out that although they hoped to have a solution soon, they hadn’t yet reached one that was “satisfactory.” The switch-off is meant to be temporary, with authorities aiming to restart broadcasting over the next few days. 

“A minority of people.” From Dublin, officials insist that the “inappropriate behavior” came from “a small minority” and state that “the overwhelming majority of people” who came to see The Portal acted appropriately. Organizers in New York City have made similar statements, echoing the idea of the unruly “minority.” 

Officials with the Flatiron NoMad Partnership, one of the project’s organizers, said that they had decided to “implement a set of protocols” since the debut of the screen, including the use of security guards and barriers.

Image | NYC DOT (X)

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