KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Now, NPR arts correspondent Mandalit del Barco is going to take us to a new pop-up art installation in Lincoln Heights. That's a neighborhood here in LA, just east of downtown. And she reports the exhibition by artist Simon Birch is unusual.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: The 14th Factory fills an enormous building the size of a Costco warehouse. It was once the site of a Chinese import-export business. The first of many gallery spaces you enter is almost pitch black. When your eyes adjust, you see giant metal shards that look like an asteroid has imploded. At the center, you step inside a bright, almost blinding white room. It's that bedroom from the final scene of the Stanley Kubrick classic film "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Light floods in from the floorboards. There's neoclassical furniture, knickknacks and paintings on the wall. And there's the bed where, in the movie, astronaut David Bowman lies down as an old man and transforms into a star baby.
SIMON BIRCH: It's such a perfect symbol. And it's a metaphor for the entire project.
DEL BARCO: Artist Simon Birch is a tall, lanky Brit. He's a big sci-fi fan. And he says he always wanted to recreate that set piece. It took a stroke of luck to make that happen. All the models and props from 2001 had been destroyed under Kubrick's orders, so Birch asked his architect friend Paul Kember to rebuild the set.
BIRCH: Paul got up from the table with a smile on his face. He says, I don't need to watch the movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey," to work out the dimensions of that room. I just need to call my uncle Tony. He said, well, my uncle Tony just happened to be Stanley Kubrick's chief draftsman, set designer and built that original room.
DEL BARCO: The "2001" room and other 14th Factory installations captivated visitors John and Susan Di Maina, Scott Meisse and his daughter Scarlett.
JOHN DI MAINA: Wild.
SUSAN DI MAINA: The white room was sort of disorienting.
SCOTT MEISSE: It's otherworldly.
SCARLETT: It felt like it came out of a dream, like, I felt like I was in. It was very surreal.
DEL BARCO: Here are some of the other installations by Birch and his collaborators - architects, filmmakers and multimedia artists. A room of pitchforks hanging down overhead, giant screens with slow motion images of acrobats and a horde of Chinese men punching each other. In one room, you're surrounded by videos of Hong Kong apartments. The camera tracks up and down the towers, making you feel as though you are floating.
MEISSE: It's not like a traditional museum, that's for sure. It's the exhibition I'd want to go to.
DEL BARCO: Each room it's a distinct, immersive experience. At the center of the factory is a green lawn with a crater and swings hanging from the ceiling. Another video space projects multiple angles of a car crash, Birch's own red Ferrari, with parts of the car's wreckage on display. Outside, 40 salvaged airplane tails are planted in a pool like an aircraft boneyard. Birch says he came out of obscurity to create all of this.
BIRCH: Nobody's ever heard of me or the projects, so it's a weird paradigm from the ground up. And I suppose I'm a weird artist. I'm not trained. I didn't go to art school. I actually come from a very rough background.
DEL BARCO: Simon Birch grew up in the English midlands, where he was a club DJ known for throwing raves. From his violent neighborhood of hooligans, Birch made his way to Hong Kong to work in construction. In his spare time, he picked up a paintbrush.
BIRCH: I used to paint my mates that I worked with, who were Chinese gangsters covered in tattoos, and so quite realist, figurative work. And that led to sort of wealthy people commissioning me to paint them in my style. So I started sort of doing portraits for heads of the big banks.
DEL BARCO: He got solo and group shows. But then eight years ago, he was diagnosed with cancer, given six months to live. He survived that and began creating the 14th Factory. Red tape and logistics were too difficult in Hong Kong and in New York. When he found this 150,000 square foot space in LA, he sunk everything he had into it.
BIRCH: There's an unknown group of guerilla pirate renegades, you know, doing this massive project. We have no money. I have no money. I started selling everything I owned, sold everything. And literally so I now have one suitcase of clothes. That's my life.
DEL BARCO: Birch says the 14th Factory will stay open as long as people keep coming and donating money - right now, at least until the end of May. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
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