A metallic grid outlines translucent floor panels and antique, mustard-colored furniture flanks a bed draped in sea-foam green sheets. The clapping of loafers and heels reverberates off the walls of a room that's recognizable to Stanley Kubrick fans as a re-creation of the bedroom in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This diorama is just a small portion of the 14th Factory, a 3-acre pop-up art show occupying a warehouse in Lincoln Heights. The room, reimagined by British artist Simon Birch and KplusK Associates, is named “Barmecide Feast,” a nod to the Arabian Nights parable that suggests not everything is as it seems.
The work’s title became sort of ironic when the 14th Factory “opened” on March 11. Visitors appeared to be drifting through a carefully curated art show, but due to a regulatory snafu with the city, they were actually treading through a film production studio.
After five years of planning, the 14th Factory’s public opening was stonewalled by the city following the Oakland Ghost Ship fire that took 36 lives in December. As a result of the tragedy, the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety halted temporary special event applications in manufacturing warehouses.
“In some ways, it’s officially not an art exhibition anymore,” Birch explains. “What it actually is is my studio and my production facility. We’re filming the process of it being built, which is ongoing because it’s continuously transforming. And we have a film permit, and we’re filming a documentary within the space about the transformation of the space, about the project. We’re able to operate quite legally because we are a documentary about an art-production facility. We’re not officially a special event.”
The film permit allows visitors to participate in the documentary while taking in the exhibit, but they are required to sign a waiver in order to join the cast. A documentary was always part of the show; however, Birch never intended the filming to be the sole point of entry.
Despite receiving a passing letter of safety appraisal from the L.A. Fire Department, the 14th Factory is still unable to obtain permitting that would allow it to open to the general public solely as an art exhibit.
Justin Diener, executive producer of the 14th Factory, is overseeing the permitting process and maintaining an optimistic disposition while working with local officials. “The mayor and the City Council have been very cooperative,” he says.
In an official statement issued to L.A. Weekly via email, DOBS spokesman Jeff Napier disclosed the department’s stance on warehouse venues:
Warehouses and manufacturing structures are not designed to safely house assembly groups. Assembly use structures are required to have, but not limited to, a fire alarm system, emergency lighting and exit signs, fire-rated construction and materials, flame and smoke spread ratings and other code requirements. LADBS is still accepting Temporary and Special Event applications, just not for “Change of Use.”
The “change of use” stipulation has lasting implications for pop-up venues in Los Angeles, and the DOBS has no plans “for accepting temporary change-of-use permits for [the 14th Factory’s] type of occupancy.”
The major problem for Birch and his team is the inability to charge admission or follow through with the many altruistic efforts that are written into the 14th Factory's mission statement. The team planned to conduct community outreach programs in conjunction with the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council and, after six months in its current location, use the funding to share its narrative with another city around the world.
“In a way, it’s one cohesive story,” Birch says. “Each element of the project is interconnected. It’s a bit like a movie script, and I’m very much like the director of a movie.”
Birch solicited 20 interdisciplinary artists from around the globe to depict 14 scenes in a hero’s transformational journey. The industrial space is divided into 14 rooms that sequentially narrate the protagonist’s perseverance as it resists external divisions.
“We’re interested in justice,” Birch says. “We’re interested in altruism. We’re interested in helping people and helping one another. That naturally comes out in the work as an artist. Artists tend to be very socially responsible and empathetic people.”
Through the precarious process of manifesting the 14th Factory project, Birch has been forced to tap into his hero’s resilience. The show was brought to Asia, London and New York but, without any sponsorships, grants or celebrity backing, the curator was unable to obtain the support to pull off an independent show of its size.
Now, in Los Angeles, the concept has been given life, but timing has prevented it from becoming quite what it was intended to be.
“In some ways I’m at peace with this roadblock,” Birch assures. “It’s just part of the story. When things are really difficult, then you know they are worthwhile.”
The 14th Factory, 440 N. Ave 19, Lincoln Heights; Tue.-Fri., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. & Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-6 p.m., through April 30.
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