Outside the Box: BCS Artists Alex Nichols x Mushi

Alex Nichols
Performance Art

Alex NICHOLS and Mushi are the second group of international artists visiting BCS this year. Their two-week stay began on April 17 and saw the realization of several “Portable Studio” events, conducted at Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei, Zhuwei Elementary School, and BCS Open Studio.

What is "Portable Studio"?

Portable Studio is a collaboration between Alex and Mushi first launched in San Francisco, the United States. Small, semi-enclosed space made of light, white bricks are installed in various spaces, inviting passersby to walk in, two at a time. There are two rules to the encounter: no exchange of words and no direct physical contact are allowed in the space. The two participants can only communicate through the two objects that the artists placed in the space.

The project has run for about two years, touring in the United States, Japan, and Germany, where it is currently on display. The idea is to study how people connect with each other through physical interactions in the absence of language. With Portable Studio, Alex and Mushi attempts to initiate conversations transcending gender, culture, and language.

Portable Studio @MOCA Taipei

In each site-specific encounter in Taipei, Alex and Mushi would set up their synthetic white space and video-recording station in less than fifteen minutes.

People in all shapes and sizes entered the white space. Some are old friends, some are couples, and others are colleagues, strangers, and siblings. A pair of young brothers four or five years of age would not stop fighting with each other outside the space, but became best playmates once inside. After each session, the artists asked the participants to share their thoughts on the experience. Most claimed that it took more energy and diligence to convey messages and understand one another without the use of language. Many also said that objects in the space acted both as props for making contact and weapons to assault one another.

Portable Studio @Zhuwei Elementary School

Portable Studio’s first attempt conducting workshops in an elementary school. Details about the workshop were made in advance with the teachers at the school, and the children were divided into pairs. The hallway became a temporary home to the white space, and the participating students were called out by their designated numbers to experience the space.

The fourth graders were the most outgoing and began improvising in the space without much hesitation or care for gender differences; the sixth graders, on the other hand, were embarrassed by the situation and were tentative to make the first move. The fifth graders expressed a mixed interest in the workshop; most boys enjoyed the experience while girls showed more signs of shyness.

Mangrove Channel, a local TV channel, screened an interview with Alex and Mushi during their sessions at Zhuwei Elementary school one evening. When asked about the differences in reaction of the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders in the white space, the artists mentioned, “We do not think that there existed a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ form of communication. What the children encountered in the workshop are part of their life experiences. We are glad to have the opportunity to observe and think about what they might grow to become in the coming years.”

Alex and Mushi told the students at the end of the workshop that the white space was created to “allow those who enter the space to think outside the box and locate their true selves.” The artists hoped that when the children grow up, they may fearlessly become what they wish to be regardless of society’s expectations and limitations.

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