I had seen a lot of images of 14th Factory popping up on my Instagram feed when it opened in Spring. For one reason or another, I wasn't able to make it until earlier this month. Since it was late in its run, I wondered if it would be worth it or if it was another Museum of Ice Cream type of expensive selfie photo op. I decided to go and I'm so glad I did. It's closing at the end of July, so make your way there as soon as you can!
The outside of the factory is painted black with giant Chinese characters and black and white flags hanging outside the entrance, imparting the foreboding feel of a pirate ship. (I have a 5 year old son, so we see Pirates everywhere these days) I love that it's in Lincoln Heights, a peaceful, industrial neighborhood I often drive through on my way home. Once inside, there are 14 rooms showcasing mainly Simon Birch's work, the British born, Hong Kong based artist who is the founder/creator of the 14th factory. I spent my Junior year abroad in Hong Kong, and haven't been back since so was excited to see this little bit of Hong Kong brought to LA.
Los Angeles was not the first city envisioned to be the home of 14th factory. 5 other cities were previously in the works, the most recent, New York City, but with all other cities, the project was about to open to the public and they either lost their funding, permitting etc, so this installation has been years in the making and very much a labor of love. Supposedly two of the pieces in the factory were sold to LACMA, so it seems that there really was a happy ending after all.
The site selected for 14th factory LA is huge; 3 acres in total in a former warehouse, making it the largest experiential art project in LA. When I visited, they were in the process of filming a documentary for the BBC, and hoping to have the next site take place in London. This whole project is like a rotating mini museum that is entirely funded by ticket sales and donations. There is no guided tour as you walk through the space, and because of its size it can be a little confusing and overwhelming at times. Birch's intention was that it be an informal space for viewing art in a casual setting rather than the conventional museum going experience. He often gives talks on site and has other collaborative, interactive events with artists on the weekends.
What was the most famous room in the factory (that is until the crown room selfie fiasco) is a replica of the room from the last scene in Stanley Kubrick's 2001. The light up floor emanates a lot of heat, each group of 4 or so has 2 minute to walk through, without shoes on and experience it. It's gimmicky for sure but still pretty cool to experience.
The Barmecide Feast by Simon Birch and KplusK associates
Next up is an interior courtyard, filled with grass. They had just replaced it the evening before. Even though the ceiling is perforated, with the extreme heat of LA summers, the grass just couldn't survive very long. There were a few swings scattered throughout but we were told not to step on the grass because it had just been put down. With nobody on the grass it seemed like a haunted idyllic playground.
In the Garlands hall there are 10 photographs by Li Wei with various people suspended in mid air. They were shot with the subjects on cranes and in some you can see the expression of the crowd as they look at the people flying in front of them.
Upclose of The Crusher by Simon Birch, 300 wood and steel painted pitchforks suspended from the ceiling. Acrylic paintings by Dominique Fung, The Inhabitants. Closeups of vegetables in various stages of decay.
One way we've found to keep our son actively engaged while looking at artwork is to give him a camera to record his own view of the art. It's fascinating to see the angles and compositions he comes up with. We also discuss what's going on in the piece, be it the subject matter, technique employed, setting or materials involved.
The video of a vintage Ferrari speeding and crashing, flipping over and over until it's destroyed feels hypnotic and voyeuristic, it's hard to look away from. I'm not personally a big car fan, but I can imagine that this video is upsetting for any car aficionado. My son was incredulous that anyone would willing destroy a car. (Again 5 year old here) Various pieces of the car wreckage are displayed on a long table in the adjoining room like archaeological finds.
Hypercaine by Simon Birch, Gloria Yu, Gabriel Chan, and Jacob Blitzer.
Sometimes you experience an emotional reaction just from simply looking at a piece of art, and with others the story behind it makes it much more impactful. At first glance, this room had simplistic crowns made out of various stones and metal juxtaposed with more intricate Alexander Mc Queen like head pieces and some metal fragments. When chatting with the security guard, he explained that various pieces throughout the exhibit detailed the emotional journey that Birch embarked up on after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Some pieces represent the chaos and turmoil of receiving such a grim prognosis. Others are more hopeful. The metal fragments and some of the metal cages were made from Birch's actual brain scans. This is also the room where a girl attempting to take a selfie recently fell backwards, knocking several of the pedestals down in a domino effect and causing $200,000 worth of damage. Its great when people can get right up close to enjoy and experience the artwork but it's a shame when people are careless and inconsiderate. Just because it's not a conventional museum viewing experience doesn't mean that the artwork shouldn't be treated with the same respect.
One of my strongest memories living in Hong Kong was how crowded it was, with people and buildings. It made New York City look like a suburb. I was there in 1997 so I can only imagine what its like now, with the rapid pace of development. Hong Kong has so many of these drab high rise buildings shooting everywhere out of the ground up to the sky everywhere as far as the eye could see. Tannhauser gives the experience of riding upwards in a glass elevator outside these buildings as it goes from the ground floor up. Dizzying and electrifying, I really enjoyed it and you can see from the face of my son above, he did too!
Clear Air Turbulence by Simon Birch
The last piece of the show is Clear Air Turbulence, which is comprised of salvaged airplane tails submerged in a steel frame pool. The shadows reflecting in the still water create a peaceful calm while the eeriness of the subject matter makes it slightly unsettling. The airplane tails seem like a scene of a giant plane crash. With the deck chairs circling one end its like pulling up a chair to a car crash. Voyeurism on steroids.
14th Factory closes July 30 with special events until then. A panel on the Art Experience and the age of Social Media is this Saturday, July 22 and Simon Birch will be tattooing various limited edition designs all day Saturday as well.
Tickets are $18 online, $22 at the door with residents of Lincoln Heights entering for free with valid license.
440 North Ave. 19
Los Angeles, CA 90031