Q: What are the choices we make? How do those choices impact us?

D: Containment
a. the action of keeping something harmful under control or within limits.

Alex’s art practice, whether it is word work, performance, photography, video, is always about the boxes we contain ourselves in.

Containment is a short story written by Alex NIchols that follows the visible deterioration of a man working with an invisible contaminant. In 2011 she was invited to perform her piece at “Breaking Ranks” at Headlands Center for the Arts.

Dressed in a white tyvek suit, surrounded by white walls and white shelves, Alex performs the story of a man slowly dying inside an invisible contamination. A man who takes a job to give his family a better life, aware that the exchange will be his life. We witness the table set with jam and expensive food in his new apartment, watching his daughters eat, as his own teeth fall out in the morning. This is a story about the choices we make and the narratives we create to live with decisions, no matter how absurd or painful, our logic becomes full proof.

Performed at Headlands, Alex dressed in a white Tyvek suit, inside a white vinyl chamber, reads, eerily portraying invisible contamination.

“Breaking Ranks" in military usage indicates the movement of a group to fall out of line, allowing each person to go his or her own way. The Bay Area artists, performers, and writers included in this annual exhibition break ranks from the status quo to investigate the arbitrary division between Nature and Culture. The diverse media in the exhibition, including drawing, painting, photography, video, painting, sculpture, and live performance reveal the products and processes of culture as part and parcel of human nature, enough to make culture at least second nature for humans everywhere.

Excerpt of Containment by Alex Nichols:

The building I work in is cement painted white. I enter through a door that brings me into a small chamber with another door. Inside the second door is a room that is small and narrow with white suits folded and placed on shelves. The entire room is white, and there are no windows. One single fluorescent strip runs across the center of the room. There is the shower room to the right. The shower room is lined entirely in white tiles with only the shower head and a large stack of soap bars. Straight ahead is the door that opens onto the hallway leading to the core of the building. This is where I spend my days working.

It is September; I have eight teeth left. Four upper front teeth, four bottom front.

My wife has been crying a great deal, not in front of me, but I see that the rims of her eyes are red. It started after my fourth molar fell out. Before that she believed it was merely bad teeth. Maybe I did too. I am thirty-three years old, my father is still alive and my grandfather—though they have eaten nothing but dirt all their lives. My wife said she didn’t need jam on the table, “We should go back to our small town, to our families. Fancy food is not worth so much.”

What is done is done.

I have not gone to the doctor, but I know I’m dying. I will die as the lion. I will have a cemetery stone. I will not be buried in an unmarked dirt grave where the wooden marker has decayed with the seasons before my bones.

I have been here for three years. My title is the Controller. I have a serious job, and I have taken it with the utmost sincerity and diligence required. Before this I had jobs without titles. I was nothing. I was not even a goat chewing grass in a field, because I had nothing to chew. You may think I have paid a high price, but my every decision has been carefully weighed. I have made the best decisions at every turn. My daughter Petra is well educated. Her hands are smooth, like they have been bathed in warm milk and oil every night. Her hair is dark black and falls to her waist. She reads to me every night and she is only twelve. She reads better than me. My wife and I have decided not to tell Petra about my teeth. I smile carefully so that I only expose the front. I have practiced this in the mirror at night before bed. It is difficult, I feel a bit like a rabbit, the way my lips twitch. My cheeks have sunk a bit without the other teeth, but it gives me a distinguished look. I have taken to giving a closed mouth grin with a slight nod of my head and a raise of my brows in my greeting with neighbors.


SF Weekly. Heidi De Vries. February 14, 2011.