The FRINGE OF EMPIRE: A report by resident adventure-ologist, Scott Albert
14th Factory: 440 North Avenue 19, Los Angeles, CA 90031
Check the website for time and prices: http://the14thfactory.com
Across the street from a haunted jail, you step into an unassuming Lincoln Heights warehouse, into a world where time and space start to lose their hold on you.
LA is a town that feeds on Instagram set pieces like zombies on human flesh, and the 14th Factory has flooded my social media feed with images straight from Kubrick’s 2001, one of my favs. I had wanted to go, and my Brazilian friend said he was going, I jumped at the chance. My Brazilian friend (BF) had just bought a car, which I also wanted to see. He’s a handsome man, BF, with hair that manages to out-Beiber the bang flip, who makes his mysterious living in something something marketing. He parked around the block, and I didn’t get to see the car.
We found the front door to 14th Factory, which is a bit of an accomplishment of its own. From the first pitch black room, we were thrown into a world where time and space have less and less meaning. At the end of a room that my apartment could comfortably rent to live in and complain about too much space, a projection of a kaleidoscopic swirl of dancers swam larger than life. The scale of the works carried through, from a frozen-in-time, black-on-black collision of a meteor; to stepping – blinking against the blinding light – into a park, immaculately reconstructed inside the old warehouse. We walked barefoot on the real grass, and watched the LA hipsters and Instagram-seekers take to the swings with obvious glee. The poor blonde kid in charge of keeping shoes off the lawn had to look up from his phone long enough to say to an enthusiastically swing fedora wearer, “That beam’s kinda… you know… swaying.” BF tried the swings. I sipped my coffee. Division of labour is key in these matters.
The exhibition is massive. 150,000 square foot over the complex that digested a bunch of disused LA warehouses. We dutifully read the artists’ statements of each piece, and noticed the name Simon Birch popped up over and over. I spoke with the barista in the gift shop and got some background. He worked in Eightfold Café downtown until they hired his shop to coffee up the gift shop. He thought that the 14th Factory would be open as long as people kept coming. I found BF smoking in the sun, admiring the garden that was made up of airplane tail fins – the jet liners fins towering over us and the smaller Cessna sized ones sprouting between them. BF told me, very seriously, he overheard two girls talking about the art. I waited for him to fill me in with his eavesdropped wisdom, all the better to fake having done a modicum of research. After a minute or two of very thoughtful smoking, he crushed out his cig and shrugged with gravitas, “They really seemed to know what they were talking about.” Welp. Back to the art.
There’s too many pieces to talk about here, but there’s two stand outs. Many of the Smaug-sized rooms contained neck-craning screens. One piece surrounds you with constantly rising crane shots of tenements, laundry and flickering TVs and all – I had the distinct impression I was growing giant sized, that any moment I would rise Eat-me-Alice-like, above the roofs of the building, larger than a city myself. Then, abruptly, the image dropped. And I felt like I was plummeting and shrinking all at once.
The other, of course, was the one we had all brought our social media accounts for. Constructed inside the frozen-in-time meteor crash was the glowing, white eerie 2001 room. It was built from the original blue prints, and walking into was like walking into a movie, a dream and the mind of a master craftsman all at once. And, yes, I took the photo. Many in, fact. It was magical. We went back, trading turns with two ladies – bulky SLR camera bearing, tight pants wearing – winning the passive aggressive battle of who could take the most turns in the room. They moved on, and BF and I spent time with our prize until we tired of the taste of victory.
Leaving the 14th Factory, my friend offered to drive me home to Koreatown, and I got to ride in the car, a beautiful sporty convertible that left me wondering what use anyone could possibly ever have for back seats. We barely talked as we smoked cheap cigarettes through Downtown LA, appreciating a beautiful day in the way that California almost demands – with the top down. My Brazilian friend dropped me off, and drove off to adventures in Los Vegas, Palm Springs and beyond.
SCOTT ALBERT is a writer, adventurer and humourist living in Toronto and Los Angeles. You can help him procrastinate using firstname.lastname@example.org.