ALEX NICHOLS is an artist and writer working in Critical Contact Photography. Alex examines relationships, communication and identity in the context of culture and environment through situations of physical interactions. A native of San Francisco, Alex received her MFA in writing from CCA in 2011. She participated in residencies and exhibited her work throughout the Bay Area including the Headlands Center for the Arts, Recology Artist in Residence Program, Southern Exposure, Berkeley Art Center and Modernism West.
Alex is currently developing two projects: The Portable Studio in collaboration with Mushi & Think Make Tank, a Non-profit arts collective she co-founded at Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture.
At each juncture in a new body of work Alex asks herself a series of questions. What are the key elements that occur and reoccur in the work? The ‘body’ kept resurfacing in her work so she began to look at: “How do I use ‘the body’ in my work? How is it different from the past?” Her most recent work involves the body as a place of resistance through activities of Critical Contact.
The body is the place we begin. It is through the body that we absorb our surroundings and upon the body that physical cultural attributes are placed. Therefore it is the body that is the core of both understanding and of active resistance.
After watching Wim Wenders ‘Pina,’ Alex developed a process of art-making that took her psychological state and questions about identity through a series of physical exercises. She calls this process Practical Contact.
PROCESS OF WORK: CRITICAL CONTACT
Practical Contact Photography is a process of developing experiences for individuals that are documented through photographs and video. The photograph and video are secondary to the experience.
Alex tested the descent of the mind through a Practical Contact with gravity. A fourteen foot wall with a ledge, the process involved climbing onto the ledge and then dropping. The fall comprises specific physical stages, the grip, the letting go, the descent, a loss of equilibrium.Through repeating this action daily for weeks Alex’s body learned what her mind could not reveal about the stages of descent.
The Box looks at the constraints created by society. For six months Alex climbed in and out of a box, photographing and videoing each day. Being inside the box there is a vacillation between feeling safe and caged. Over months Alex examined what it meant to be female, what it meant to be an artist, an American, Western.
Strings attached was exactly that—thin strings attached to her body and taped to the floor. Leaning backwards, she was like a bridge. String and tape interested Alex because of their relative fragility compared to materials like steel and cable. Bridges were built throughout history mostly by men—monumental structures spanning great distances. How was a woman alone in a studio, the female body, string, going to span a great distance? What about the ‘un-monumentality' of that action?
The “space between’ and the Portable Studio, came from the recognition that working in isolation was like playing ping pong alone. “I had a desire to understand who ‘I’ was in context to other. It is only through others that we can see ourselves. Relationships are mirrors into the self.”
Was there an identifiable shape of space between individuals—a primary language? How does it differ from person to person? What could be learned about the self, and identity in this context? The problem of the project was to create an environment where she could isolate the factors, strip them down to x and y. She stripped the space down to white, everyone arrived dressed in black. She gave each pair an object to work with that would create a focus for their activity, mimicking early developmental stages of children before verbal language, the two people began the interaction and communication. The rule of no touching was critical in establishing the shape of the space. Space is everything—how else do we know when a word begins or ends.
DAZED ARTS & CULTURE
WALL STREET INTERNATIONAL: Alex Nichols, The Space Between
AT A GLANCE: SEEKING EPIPHANY