As the European Union signals its distancing from a seven-decade transatlantic alliance, as the United States joins Nicaragua and Syria as the only other nations to demure from the Paris Climate Agreement, as a realignment of global hegemonies occurs before our eyes, there is no better time to reflect on the narrative of globalization. The 14th Factory, a warehouse-sized installation currently open in Los Angeles, is the culmination of a life’s work for Simon Birch. A Brit, transplanted to Hong Kong for the majority of his adult life, Birch has lived a life precipitated by the global reality we've all been born into.
The 14th Factory in name pays homage to the Thirteen Factories which served as the West's main trading post in China during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The factories were successively destroyed during the first and second Opium Wars as they became conduits of oppressive and exploitative trade relationships. This history of resource exploitation holds over in the politics of today as the West uses the cheap labor caused by a lack of enforced labor laws and complicit governments to support an unsustainable consumer economy. I recently sat down with Birch for an interview (below) to discuss his vision and experience in creating this epic visual narrative.
Video courtesy of Matador Network
Birch’s 14th Factory provides a place for reflection. There are no answers there but all too often we remain unaware of the inter-dependence and exploitative nature of our global society fraught with the themes Birch brings to the fore. Collision, crisis, resolution, transformation—the hero myth that Birch calls upon attempts a universality. Balancing the specific and the universal is the story of globalization now as the discourses of postcoloniality do their job, reflecting back on the exploitation of the past to mitigate the exploitative impulse of now. How does one balance development with respect? How does one consume responsibly while honoring the labor involved? How do we proceed conscientiously and how do we elevate the oppressed, both at home and abroad, to a place where they can participate in a meaningful and conscious engagement as a global society based on universal equality? What myths must be created and which myths must remain?
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Dates: March 11, 2017 - June 30, 2017
Location: 440 N. Ave 19 Los Angeles, CA 90031
Donation: $18 online and $22 at the door. Youth, Seniors and Military get discounted tickets for $14 online, and residences for the Lincoln Heights neighborhood with a zip code of 90031 are eligible for free entry. Get advanced tickets through See Tickets.
Participation and Donation Opening hours: Please visit The14thFactory.com for more information.
Joel Kuennen is the Chief Operations Officer and a Senior Editor at ArtSlant.
(All images courtesy of The 14th Factory and The Confluence Group. Special thanks to Nathaly Charria.)