Transforming a derelict Lincoln Heights warehouse into an art haven

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I wonder how many of you are adventurous enough to explore an abandoned warehouse in Lincoln Heights, just east of Chinatown. I've lived in LA for a few decades and pride myself on knowing the city quite well, but here I was, a few days ago, slightly lost in a neighborhood not far from Dodger Stadium.

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(T) The 14th Factory in Lincoln Heights
(B) Simon Birch, Lily Kwong, and KplusK associates,
"Garlands (The New World)," 2016-2017
Earth, grass, live flowers, steel, woods, swings

A friend of mine had urged me to see what the Hong Kong-based British artist Simon Birch had done with a dilapidated industrial complex there. With the help of twenty artists from China, Hong Kong, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, Birch transformed this industrial area into a hallucinatory environment where a visitor feels as if he or she ingested –– hmm, you know –– a certain substance. For example, how else can you make sense of a sprawling indoor green garden, with blood-red poppies on one side and a line of swings on another?

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Simon Birch and KplusK associates, "The Barmecide Feast (The Inner Cave)," 2016

And then, you are offered the privilege to step –– and I mean literally step –– into a frighteningly perfect space: a replica of a set from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The only difference is that the European artworks that decorated the original film set are replaced here by the works of contemporary Chinese artists.

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Simon Birch, "The Crusher (The Talisman)," 2016-2017
Site-specific installation

Hidden among the nooks and crannies of this multi-disciplinary art project is a room with hundreds of pitchforks suspended from the ceiling and ready to crash onto our heads. It feels as if angry Gods are ready to punish us for whatever sins we might have committed. It definitely takes courage to stand under these pitchforks.

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(T) 3D Rendering of "The Meteor (The Test)," concept by Simon Birch
Co-designed by Taylor Philips Hungerford and KplusK associates
(B) Eric Hu and Simon Birch,
"The Inevitable (The Final Challenge: Death and Rebirth)," 2015
Six-channel video

The scope and ambition of some of these installations echoes the scale and energy of major museum biennials and international art fairs. An enormous sculpture of jumbled geometric forms that bursts into one of the spaces makes you think you are witnessing the silent crash of a spaceship. And, speaking of a crash, there is a dark room with multiple screens showing a video of a red Ferrari racing at full speed and crashing over and over again. It wouldn't be surprising if a Hollywood producer, after seeing this installation, steals this idea for an upcoming blockbuster.

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(T) Simon Birch, "Clear Air Turbulence (The Portent)," 2016-17
Site-specific installation: Salvaged airplane tails in steel-framed pool
(B) Doug Foster and Simon Birch featuring artists Cang Xin, Li Wei, Yang Zhichao,
and anonymous allies, "The Dormouse (The Threshold)," 2015
Two-channel video

In an outdoor courtyard, numerous tails and wings from salvaged airplanes are plunged into a dark pool of water. Depending on your mood, you might see it as an airplane cemetery. But my initial reaction was that I was looking at dozens of sharks ready to attack, with their fins popping out of the water.

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(T) Simon Birch, "Jubilee (Avatars and Demons)," 2015-2017 Oil on canvas
(B) Wing Shya and Simon Birch, "The Inhumans (The Ordeal)," 2016
Six-channel video

The name of this multi-national project conceived by Simon Birch is the 14th Factory. It refers to the particular period in Chinese history when, in the mid-eighteenth century, foreign merchants were allowed to trade tea, porcelain, silk, and opium in a district known as the Thirteen Factories. All this took place in the suburbs of the city known today as Guangzhou.

One wonders how such a mind-boggling artistic endeavor could come to fruition without a multi-million dollar budget or support from a major institution. So my friends, I urge you to experience this unique, phantasmagorical project. The 14th Factory will only be there for us until the end of April.

All photos courtesy of the 14th Factory.



Benjamin Gottlieb