2015 Feature on Alex Nichols and STUDIO 17: The Artists’ Space

Mission studios closing 70 artists forced out
Studio 17

Alex Nichols is a multi-media artist and writer whose work examines the dynamics of relationships and identity. A native of San Francisco, Nichols received her MFA in writing from CCA in 2011 and has 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, where she is having an upcoming exhibition.

Nichols is part of a 70-artist studio community based in the Mission called Studio 17, that is currently being priced out of its valuable work space. Nichols and the artists of Studio 17 are working to let their story be heard, and to emphasize to the community the crucial importance of keeping working artists within the city limits of San Francisco. Alex Nichols’s blog, “The Artists’ Space,” documents the journey of Studio 17 as the artists prepare to move on. The blog takes the reader on a poetic journey through different artists’ workspaces, giving us an intimate view of each artist’s mode of creation and emphasizing the critical aspect of the space.

Alex conducting interviews for The Artists Space
Alex conducting interviews for The Artists Space blog

Nichols emphasizes the importance of community and having a space of one’s own in which to work – aspects of art making that many may not be aware of as essential to the process:

“What is the impact of artist studios closing on such a large scale in San
Francisco? Why does it matter that 70 artists in a thriving co-operative are being disbanded? An artist community like Studio 17 supports artists, gives them a place to work side by side with other artists. I came to this studio to be surrounded by community, and that includes Mission Street, the life inside and outside these walls, and watching people live their lives in multiple ways. When artists are isolated we bounce ideas off ourselves—when we are together, those ideas are bounced off each other—breakthroughs are made and new ways of thinking are opened.”

Alex Nichols
Detail shot of Alex's studio
Detail shot of Alex’s studio

Why does this matter to San Francisco? Every community that is being dispersed matters to San Francisco. San Francisco is its communities: what any great city hopes for is dynamic thinking and vibrancy, different cultures, races, religions. This diversity helps us to see all the possible ways of living our lives—absorbing aspects of each others’ cultures and adapting that information into our lives as possibility.

So we are just one community—but what is a city without artists, musicians, poets, performers? What is a city if those things are only imported into its district instead of fabricated within its walls?

San Francisco The Artists' Space Studio 17 by artist and writer Alex Nichols

The blog is also an extension of Nichol’s current body of work:

“My work is about identity: who I am in relation to others; who I am in each of my relationships. I photograph people and objects in relation to myself. A person walks into my studio and against a white back drop and minimalist environment I document our silent interaction—to learn our vocabulary, our language.

When I began this current photo project, I had a hypothesis about language; about reading the body and how we relate and communicate beyond words. When two people are photographed, I always want to know what their relationship is: what do they know? what is their secret? Even more exciting is —what do “I” the viewer know that perhaps the subjects do not know?

Sometimes it takes a minimalist environment—a stripping away of distraction—to see what is really happening.

As I write a blog about the artists in this studio before it disappears, I realize how important community is. I think about the ability to walk out into a hallway where the hierarchies of society don’t exist—there are no bosses in these halls. This is a neutral space free of constraint which allows people to develop, experiment and build their individual voices. It is a rare space to exist in—voices articulating thought through wood, paint, light, sound.”

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