In August 2021, about a month into editing the 2022 Arena Annual, I moved into a new apartment. The front door to the new building is mostly glass, divided by a wooden grid into several square panes. In the center pane, taped to the inside of the glass, is an index card with the house number sketched out in pencil and below it, scrawled in aqua blue marker, “II. Portal.” I still don’t know who made it or why, or where the first portal is. But I see it when I leave and when I come back home, which is to say every day, several times a day, as I step back and forth over the threshold of “II. Portal.”
It was because of this sudden attentiveness to my building’s entryway, and my comings and goings through it, that I laughed in recognition when I read a draft of Brixton Sandhals’ essay “Come In.” In it, Brixton imagines a nameless Natufian—a member of the oldest known example of a permanent human settlement—building the first home, then “passing back and forth between the two spaces he has discerned, for the first time, outwards and inwards.” Tens of thousands of years later, and we’re still partaking in the ritual. Receiving Alex Turgeon’s essay about interiors, architectural and otherwise, somehow only served to emphasize this endless loop. “If, by definition, every inside has an outside has an inside has an outside,” he wrote, “then coming out is just as equally a process of going in.”
At their most basic, portals—the theme of this year’s Annual—are doors or entryways, per Merriam Webster. “But in stories, portals also tend to serve as an indication that the rules are about to change,” writes Laura Houlberg in an essay on the political potential of APIs. Websites, of course, can also be portals, though portaling between browsers can get exhausting, as Leslie Liu (who also helped design the Annual) writes. She finds solace in the comment sections of YouTube videos and livestream chats, the “margins” of the internet where sharing feels more generous than performative. Pieces like these revealed, for me, an unexpected side of “portal”—the side that’s hard to imagine until you’ve gone through. As Cori Olinghouse put it in her conversation with Laurel Schwulst, “I think of portaling and portals as entering into the unknown. It’s about unknowing as a form of knowing.”
As more pieces came in, they began feeling almost like portals to each other, with connections emerging across very different subject matter. Both Leslie’s and Sophia Dorfsman’s pieces “open” with a fridge, one literal and one metaphorical. The gently instructive tone of Sophia’s poetic recipe (for scrambled eggs) echoes S.A. Chavarría’s syllabus for building digital utopias in a time of planetary crisis. Rue Yi and Ayana Zaire Cotton (Ayana also designed the Annual’s cover) both found their portal in trees. And where Agnes Cameron, in an essay about categorical thinking, quotes David Graeber that "the ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently,” Roque Strew paraphrases Umberto Eco in his unexpected framing of chopped and screwed: "By transforming a text, sliding around its mosaic of references, Eco proposed that you could transform the world, that a work’s potential reflected our own political potential.”
In fact, a lot of this year’s Annual is about framing, or how we frame things. Just as the margins make the center, and positive space describes the void, maybe it’s the threshold or archway that defines a portal. Portals lead to other worlds and new possibilities, as these pieces beautifully show. But to get there, you first have to build the frame.
Daniel, Cab, and I are excited to invite you to enter this portal of a book and see for yourself. Alongside the essays, interviews, fiction, and original artwork, be sure to read all the portal quotes, contributed by the Are.na community through an open channel. The only way out is through...