“As civilizations have risen and fallen, are we now at the brink of collapse or the start of a wonderful new chapter?” It is one of the questions that underlies the works in Simon Birch’s collective project The 14th Factory in Los Angeles.
Artist(s) Simon Birch, Cang Xin, Devin Liston, Dominique Fung, Doug Foster, Eric Hu, Gary Gunn, Gloria Yu, Li Wei, Lily Kwong, Movana Chen, Paul Kember, Penny Rimbaud, Peter Yuill, Prodip Leung, Sara Tse, Scott Carthy, Scott Sporleder, Stanley Wong, Wing Shya, Yang Zhichao
Venue The 14th Factory
Text Lara Schoorl
Located in a former Chinese warehouse, The 14th Factory is a contemporary art installation and experience housed in the Lincoln Heights neighbourhood in Los Angeles, and spread over three acres it comprises the works of twenty multi-media artists from China, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada.
Different from exhibitions in museums, galleries, or even DIY spaces, where traditionally (and not less progressively) focus is often placed on the works of art and to a certain extent their autonomy, an overall experience of being in the installation is favoured at The 14th Factory over, for example, materials, the placement, a hand in or autonomy of individual works. Performative in a way that society is a performance, the The 14th Factory-visitor becomes an actor in this new place of collective being – though to what and whose (good) end? Participation here is divergent from that in practices such as relational aesthetics or social art practices which take place in or point to our ‘real’ society and its problems; The 14th Factory, at times, reminds me of a project like Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Although, instead of personal joy gained through the collective experience of an immersive art installation, an escape from the real world in an attempt to live better in an alternative world seems to be the objective of Birch’s project – if only momentarily, and in a city where the gaps in societal benefits are so clearly visible.
The 14th Factory is a sensational environment, another world within the world, where one can contemplate living collaboratively in and between culture and nature, in what Birch describes as a “safe haven”. Themes such as decay, collapse, danger, hope, and future create a strange tension between dystopic and utopic perception. For example, the 2001: A Space Odyssey white bedroom, lit from the bottom, is re-created inside a landscape supposedly crashed by a meteorite, clearly built from plywood and reminiscent of a movie set prop as well. Overall the spaces leave a sense of a post-apocalyptic place, which might in part answer Birch’ question about what kind of now we live in. In particular, the work Garlands (The New World) by Birch, Lily Kwang and KplusK associates, resonates with these thoughts. Garlands (The New World) consists of a sloping boxed field of grass in the middle of the warehouse, it is divided by line of poppies, there are swings alongside one of the long edges and sounds of chirping birds come from speakers, it is watered by a staff member, and light falls onto the field through glass windows in the factory ceiling. All seems prosperous and unnatural at the same time, creating a forced upon feeling of freedom, or at least an awareness of its implication rather than its given or occurrence.
If we are at the brink of change, should we start anew elsewhere or reinterpret the good and bad we currently live in? Although, individual works are rooted in contemporary discussions surrounding industrialization, consumerism, or infrastructure the overall emphasis of being elsewhere and being aware of who else is there, absorb the agency of the individual works at The 14th Factory. The imbalance of the parts to its sum renders questions on how to make art in metropolises today, and for whom and whether that should that be determining.