Meaning and Metaphor at the The 14th Factory
Written by Genie Davis with Photos by Stephen Levey
There is nothing in Los Angeles quite like The 14th Factory, a major installation artwork that has taken over the former Van de Kamp bakery just east of DTLA. The closest analogy is to Meow Wolf in Santa Fe which has a more playful vibe in a more long-term space. For all intents and purposes 14th Factory is a pop up. It will run through April, how much longer than that is as unknown as the layers of meaning behind this collaborative collection of installation art, video, sculpture, and paintings.
Entering the space conceived by British-born and Hong Kong-based artist Simon Birch, things seem a little dark and ominous at first glance. Black and white flags flutter outside the space; the brick walls and dark curtained passage from the entrance into the actual exhibition seem spooky. Perhaps it’s an outgrowth of having spent many Octobers at Halloween Horror Nights, but had someone jumped out from behind a curtain and yelled “boo” it would’ve come as no surprise.
Once inside, this is a whole new parameter for installation art, created by a group of artists making cutting edge work. Birch’s vision is to fill abandoned or unused spaces with art and transform them. To say this project is a success is far too small a phrase. Along with the exhibition itself, 14th Factory is filming attendees’ experience in the space.
Some of the works seem too incredible to be real: a re-creation of the eerie bedroom where Keir Dullea lives out his life in 2001: A Space Odyssey; an outdoor sculpture by Birch himself, comprised of enormous salvaged airplane tails from jet planes; a room filled with crowns, some made from Chinese herbs; another room with suspended pitchforks hanging tines-down from the ceiling. This is the stuff of dreams, of magic, or of what Birch himself says is his vision: transformation. There are fourteen large scale works in all, designed by 18 different artists. While uniquely different, each work fits together like puzzle pieces into a fascinating whole that dazzles with its intricacy. Part maze, part political commentary, some of the works are simply indescribable – for example the sensation of being adrift in space as filmed images move up and down the length of an apartment complex, making visitors feel as if the floor were moving beneath them, or as if they were shooting through space. Painted and found-sculptural images of a Ferrari car wreck titillate and torment. Pitch black sculptural shapes resemble the deconstruction of the 2001 monolith. Strange floral images fill the walls around the grassy mound area; artist Movana Chen creates knitted artwork on site, allowing others to participate in her project, which is delicate and banner-like. Multiple images of men float through a variety of large scale video screens in an installation that evokes the work of Doug Aitken. A golden blade is suspended over viewers’ heads and in another video installation they find themselves immersed in images of a road, and they are moving on it.
There is something seductive and sensual in the experience of passing through these rooms; certainly tactile sensations, whether from woven fabric or rough grass is part of the space. Engaging, complex, volatile, open to individual interpretation, each of these grand, large scale artworks will have viewers discussing meaning and metaphor as past generations struggled to define the meaning in a random art house film by Luis Bunuel. Go see it, talk about it, enjoy it, and attempt to define it. Remember, The 14th Factory is itself making its own documentary – a meta idea indeed.