A Salem artist reimagines the city’s openings as portals to another world

A Salem artist reimagines the city’s openings as portals to another world

The streets of Salem are dotted with thousands of portals to other worlds.

That’s the premise behind a whimsical new project from math teacher Salem and artist Sophia Wood.

Using the city’s geographic data, it mapped Salem’s network of 10,083 storm drain covers and assigned each a destination, a code name and a “danger level” to advise would-be adventurers what they might encounter below.
“It just provides a creative stimulus for walking,” she said. “Are you coming in? What are we going to face?”

Near her home, a manhole on South Cunningham Lane, which she passes with her three teenagers, leads to the “Holy Road.” It’s a perilous journey, though – her map advises that “this may be your last adventure.”

Wood said she wanted to “take something that might seem boring and turn it into something else.”

Called “Porthales,” the project is a combination of “porthole” and “portal” and can be accessed via the Woods website and an interactive map. She hopes the map will inspire poets, artists, writers, and explorers of Salem by giving them guidelines to work with while abroad.

Downtown Salem is transformed into a network of gates on the map “Porthales” by artist and math teacher Sophia Wood. (screenshot)

Woods said the project fits into her larger philosophy of “looking for depth in what others might consider mundane… and being creative and joyful about a lot of things.”

“There’s no reason when you’re trying to learn something that you can’t do it through art and creative exploration,” she said.

Porthales was a one-day project on Saturday, November 4, where Wood was looking for a way to improve her skills in the Python programming language. I looked at the City of Salem data site and saw the manhole data file.

“How can we make this fun?” I thought.

Woods previously taught classes in creative programming and loves finding ways to make math interactive and artistic. I decided to reimagine the city’s infrastructure network as a series of portals to other worlds.

I used a list of 200 adjectives and 200 place names and combined them, using the first 10,083 to give each hole a unique destination. A manhole just south of the Salem Public Library at the intersection of Southeast Leslie and Liberty Streets leads to “Delirium Park,” while another manhole at the entrance to Wallace Marine Park leads to “The Withered Kingdom.”

Each hole has a code name, a unique anagram of “Salem, Oregon,” and a severity level on a randomly assigned six-point scale. The safest is listed as “You Should Be Fine,” while others advise bringing a friend, party, weapon, or healer before venturing inside.

The prompts are suitable for role-playing games, as well as people looking for adventure or exploration in Salem. Wood wrote several poems inspired by the holes near her home.

I might go that route

This holy walk, in my mind

Recently,” I wrote.

“It’s like a little daydream about the possibilities that could be underneath that gate,” she said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: (email protected) or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is managing editor of the Salem Reporter. She joined the Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits, and a little bit of everything else. She has been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she is a skater and board member for Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.

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