Space Popular: The Portal Galleries is a historical study of the magical portal in mainstream media. The Portal Galleries archive is composed of over 900 portals found in fantasy and fiction books, films, graphic novels, and games. The study led to the definition of 18 portal archetypes and conclusions presented in a solo exhibition at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London between June 29th and September 25th, 2022. 

Location

Sir John Soane Museum, London United Kingdom

Type

Exhibition / Research / Immersive Film

Year

29 June – 25 September 2022

SPOPeople

Lara Lesmes & Fredrik Hellberg


Research assistant: Joy Evelyn Wilson 

Illustrator: Rachel Swetnam

Asset Artist: Deborah Wong

Curator

Erin McKellar

Creative Partner 

Alcantara 

Photographs

Gareth Gardner & Matthew Blunderfield

Fabricator

Constructive & Co

Selected Reviews and related Press

The Guardian / Oliver Wainwright

RIBAj / Pamela Buxton

FRAME Magazine / Lauren Grace Morris

Stir World / Zohra Khan

V&A Magazine / Rachel Potts

Azure Magazine / Drew Zeiba


Table and Immersive Film
At the centre of the gallery at Sir John Soane Museum stands stands a table, covered in Alcantara®, which maps Space Popular’s study of portals in fiction and their development throughout time.  Surface details highlight significant examples of portals in media such as books, films and video games, indicating when they appeared and their defining features. The portals are arranged according to a series of types suggested by the research. Each centimetre represents one year, starting from the 1950s, which saw an explosion of interest in the idea of the portal and the transit it enables, and moving towards the 2020s. 
   

  
The desire to travel virtually across time, space and realms has been a recurring theme in the collective imagination – one that many have explored through fictional narratives. As a result, portals are a recurring device in mainstream media: we read about them in books, see them on the screen, and even traverse them in games. These magical thresholds defy the laws of physics and can instantly send a person across time, space, or even other dimensions. 

Portals are door-like or hole-like thresholds that grant us entrance into another virtual environment of any kind and size. As digital media gains a third dimension and becomes immersive, the way in which we swap between spaces will have to be designed. Portals are one of the most popular means to switch from one environment to another and they will likely become the go-to reference for virtual travel. The Portal Galleries is an archive and exhibition that aims to compile a history of what we argue will be the key architectural element of the coming decades. Between 2020 and 2022 we compiled an archive of portals in fiction which has over 900 entries. The analysis of the archive has already led to initial conclusions and remains an open resource for study.

The exhibition Space Popular: The Portal Galleries at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London (June 29th - September 25th 2022) presented the archive of portals in response to ther virtuality of Soane’s work, bridging the technologies of his time and ours. Unfolding walls, cleverly placed mirrors, and scale shifts are just some of the numerous examples of portals at Sir John Soane’s Museum, making it one of the greatest collections of pre-electronic media teleportation devices.

The exhibition consists of several parts presenting a cross-media historical study of fictional portals: two immersive films with accompanying furniture pieces that enable a multi-sensory experience, a 2D film presenting the 18 portal archetypes found in the archive, analytical drawings of portals in Sir John Soane’s Museum,  and a curated series of drawings from Soane’s office representing a diversity of thresholds.  

Portal Archetypes, 2022
Digital prints

This drawing, shows Space Popular's list of portal types – a project which is still in progress. It aims to create a frame of reference for the virtual travel infrastructure currently under construction in the immersive internet (AKA the metaverse). 

Research assistant: Joy Evelyn Wilson 



Space Popular’s research has resulted in a database of more than 1,000 fictional portals. These are classified according to their attributes, and are shown here as a series of types.

Some are categorised by the type of travel – across time, space, or dimensions, others by the portal's creation – through technology, magic, or nature; the way in which it is used; how it can be initialised; and who has permission to use it. Many portals enable forms of exclusivity, such as the wall at Platform 9¾ in the Harry Potter books. 

The database also contains details about size, appearance and length of journey, and data about works in which they appear, such as genre, media or place of origin.

The Table & The Portal Galleries Act2 Immersive film 
Photographer:  Matthew Blunderfield

The Table made of The Portal Galleries Act1 Immersive film
Photographer:  Matthew BlunderfieldAlcantara 
Photographer:  Matthew Blunderfield

The Portal Galleries Act1 Immersive film
Photographer:  Matthew Blunderfield

The Portal Galleries Act1 Immersive film at Sir John Soane Museum.
Photographer:  Gareth Gardner 

The Portal Galleries Viewing podium
Photographer:  Gareth Gardner 

Gallery at Sir John Soane Museum with drawings, table and collection objects. 
Photographer:  Gareth Gardner 

The Portal Stool.  
Photographer:  Gareth Gardner 


Still from Immersive film: 
The Portal Galleries Act 1: The Magic and Mechanics of Virtual Travelling, 2022 

Still from Immersive film: 
The Portal Galleries Act 2: The Portal Galleries 2022 

Still from Immersive film: 
The Portal Galleries Act 2: The Portal Galleries 2022 

Still from Immersive film: 
The Portal Galleries Act 2: The Portal Galleries 2022 


Still from Immersive film: 
The Portal Galleries Act 1: The Magic and Mechanics of Virtual Travelling, 2022 

Still from Immersive film: 
The Portal Galleries Act 1: The Magic and Mechanics of Virtual Travelling, 2022 

Portal Studies, 2022
These images show Soane Museum spaces; the Breakfast Room (bottom left) as seen from within the shallow dome, and one of the mirrors in the central threshold of the Library-Dining Room (bottom Right). Both of these are fantasy views which highlight the potential of these architectural elements to act as portals. If we were to step inside them, these are the views that we would get looking back into the Museum. 

The top left image depicts the view of the Picture Room that a visitor would have when looking back from within one of the many worlds contained in its famous unfolding wall displays. This drawing offers a fantasy view not possible in the Soane Museum itself.

The top right drawing depicts the passage from the South Drawing Room to the exhibition galleries you are now standing in. Visitors passing through this space exit Soane’s world and are transported back into our own.
 

Researcher & Illustrator: Rachel Swetnam