Your Questions, Their Answers: Q&A with Simon Birch (Part 1)

Simon Birch, Artist and Director behind The 14th Factory in The Barmecide Feast – one of the 14 interlinked installations in the project. Credit: EMS and Huffingtonpost

Since the opening of The 14th Factory, we have received plenty of questions regarding the project and the intentions behind it. We sat down with Simon Birch, Artist and Director behind the project to have some questions answered…

The 14th Factory – What does it all mean?

Today, in an increasingly post-industrial world, the word ‘factory’ is almost archaic. The 14th Factory speaks to the implications of this post-industrial world – a closing down, or obsolesce of one model of production that began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It’s not coincidental that the project is housed in an old commercial space in Lincoln Heights. The setting is part of its narrative.

The project invites you to think about different scales of border-making: the nation-state as a powerful container that draws lines around places; the borders that cities produce as they grow – enclaves of wealth and pockets of poverty; and meaning-making itself as a practice that involves taking the world and then framing it to make it intelligible – we often cut our experience of the world up in language to make it comprehensible to ourselves.

The 14th Factory explores an inherent tension between our need for borders, and dreams of living in a borderless world. It is a theme that is at once universal but also highly topical. Today, wherever we happen to live in the world, we’re experiencing the breakdown of borders – with globalization, unemployment, mass migration – but we’re also witnessing resurgent nationalism and the violent re-imposition of borders – with the building of walls and the securitization of frontiers.

William Daniell, The European Factories, Canton, 1806. Currently in the collection of The Yale Center for British Art

The title of the project The 14th Factory speaks to this theme in different ways. It alludes on one level to the Thirteen Factories of Canton (today’s Guangzhou) in Southern China. This was a zone on the outskirts of the port-city where, through the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, foreigners were permitted to trade for part of the year. Of course, the object of this trade was ultimately the opening up of China – imagined as a breaking down of borders in the name of free trade. Britain, and other powers, would go to war with the Qing Empire to ensure that it opened up. The Thirteen Factories becomes an emblem in this project of a contradictory impetus for lockdown and global expansion.  The project explores this tension between the border and the borderless, and how the borderless world we conjure is often itself the product of historical violence.

Why build it?

As an artist, one becomes a filter and reactor, and then visual communicator, absorbing and interpreting and responding to the world one inhabits. My feeling is, the social contract of existence has taken us to a precarious point. Globalization and population have taken us where we are at risk of environmental collapse, virus outspread, artificial intelligence takeover, nuclear war and many other potential crisis. It may be too late but we have been on the brink before. Although communication online has allowed certain borders to be broken down, algorithms on search engines and social media tend to direct us toward articles that reflect our own ideological preferences and echo what we already know and like – making the ideological borders between people stronger than ever.

The 14th Factory is a microcosm of a solution, or at least my incubator conceptual idea of one. It is an action: Re-activating an abandoned space, arriving in a community outside of the main Los Angeles tourist map, bringing a group of multi-disciplinary creatives together to collaborate on an intimate and interconnected project, and sharing it with a diverse demographic outside of the established paradigm of art presentation…. Well, this is an action and collaboration that is ultimately shared by a greater community with positive repercussions for all.

What is the vision?

Our trade is art, love, inspiration, and the removal of borders within the walls of our factory/enclave, with easy access for all. Diverse and inclusive, The 14th Factory represents a thoroughfare of input and export both intuitive and rational. Hopefully we are an example of the benefits of globalization – this glowing, creative meteor, crashing down into a culturally diverse community.

But within the walls are warnings – reflections of the state of the contemporary, global landscape. Dark, explosive, massive sculptural masses, airplane parts disconnected from their host vehicle, luxury sports cars destroyed, hundreds of factory workers brawling. It’s no walk in the park…though admittedly we do have a park but even that, terra formed inside the factory suggestion the inevitable loss of our environment and the need to inhabit new ones artificially.

Warhol’s Factory was from a different time and with a different intention, and it offered a new paradigm in art presentation and production – the post-industrial process conceptually realised in art production. Our relationship with that piece of art history I would suggest is in terms of its relationship to the established art world rather than any parallels with ways of producing, delegating or collaborating. This is a different time, this is a very different project, and I am a very different artist. The 14th Factory is a one stop shop to reflect, enlighten and give hope through transformation.

The next part of Q&A to be continued… Follow us on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook to keep up with our latest updates and programmings!