This incredible replica of the 2001: Space Odyssey room has a surprising Canadian connection
Those paintings? They're original works by Toronto's Dominique Fung
If you want to see this room, you have two options: 1) enter a wormhole somewhere off Jupiter, or 2) get yourself to Los Angeles, where a sprawling pop-up art exhibition called the 14th Factory is taking over a 100-year-old warehouse.
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The show, which was recently extended to July 30, is the brainchild of Hong Kong-based British painter Simon Birch, and it features 14 rooms of installations created by a team of 20 international artists. But the piece receiving much of the attention since its March debut — on Instagram, at least — is this one. Called "The Barmecide Feast," it's a near-perfect clone of a 2001: A Space Odyssey set — the go-towards-the-light bedroom where astronaut Dave Bowman finds himself in the movie's final scenes.
Contained inside yet another work of art is a massive black sculpture of Masonite, wood and foam called "The Meteorite." More than 65,000 visitors have already experienced it, successfully refraining from smashing its Louis XVI furnishings in pursuit of the perfect selfie. (The same cannot be said of other parts of the show, unfortunately; one guest infamously damaged $200,000-worth of art when a failed photo op caused a domino effect of destruction in the "Hypercaine" installation.)
Birch curated the 2001 room, and he's previously called it "a perfect symbol and metaphor for the entire project." The Stanley Kubrick film is about the journey of man — to reduce 160 mind-bending minutes to a single phrase — and the 14th Factory, in turn, is meant to follow "a contemporary hero's journey." And that trip, it turns out, took a detour through Canada.
As if to give visitors one further double take, the art objects found within the space might seem familiar, but they're not actually from the movie. Rather, contemporary artists created original works for the space. Among them is Dominique Fung, a 29-year-old Sheridan College grad who made the installation's series of paintings, "Inhabitants," in her Toronto studio. Born and raised in Ottawa, Fung struck up a friendship with Birch during a trip to Art Basel Hong Kong several years back — and when he pitched her the opportunity to be a part of the 14th Factory in 2015, she immediately signed up. CBC Arts reached her in New York, where she's recently relocated.
How did you get involved in the 14th Factory? What was the pitch?
Dominique Fung: [Simon Birch] explained the entire show, and where it's going to be. It would be in an extremely huge factory where you walk through it and it'll be seven types of experiences. At the time I thought, "This thing is not doable! This is crazy." (laughs)
And then he was like, "I want you to be in this room that glows and your paintings will be on the wall and it'll be inspired by the 2001 Kubrick film."
He was so excited about it, and hearing what he wanted to do, I just wanted to be a part of that. It's not like shows that I've ever heard of, and he had done something similar in Hong Kong. I knew that he's a perfectionist so I knew the show was going to be good if he was able to execute it in terms of finances.
You have four paintings in the show?
What can you tell me about them?
They were created especially for the installation. It was pretty loose in terms of what he wanted. He was like, "It's a neo-classical, Rococo-themed room, so if you could paint something along those lines — it doesn't have to be the exact four paintings that were in the Kubrick film, but if you could get a sense of the eerie, other dimension kind of feeling, then we're good to go."
At the time, I was painting that exact type of thing — painting a lot of sculptures, referencing a lot of 19th century painting. So it really worked out.
As things came together, how were you collaborating with the other artists involved in the room?
We actually didn't speak until the actual show. Most of us never actually met up until the opening day and everyone was at the opening and the afterparty.
Was that also your first time seeing the finished installation?
Yes, yes! I didn't see any of it until opening day.
What was it like to experience it in person?
It was insane!
Within "The Barmecide Feast," it's hard to explain. They play an ambient noise, so when you walk into a room you can't hear anything else outside the room. There was a lineup on the opening day, so you can hear everyone chattering, but the moment you stepped inside the room, it was silent with this humming noise. And then with everything glowing — peripherally, there's no dimension. You can't see depth when you're in the room, so everything just looks like a picture.
What is that piece about to you?
When he pitched it to me, he wanted the room to be like a rebirth. But for me, it was more of a — compared to the rest of the show, I felt the room was more of an emptiness. Maybe emptiness isn't the right word. Physically, you're there, but not really. Your body is there, but your mind isn't there, if that makes sense. That was the feeling when I went into the room.
And then seeing my paintings on the walls for the first time in that space — I had been working on them in my studio in Toronto, which is lit with, like, three lights. And then when I saw them in the installation they had this really eerie presence to them. It didn't feel the same when I was painting them in my studio at all.
How surprising was that?
Very! They look so good in there, first of all, but very creepy! They kind of took on their own life-force.
I've seen a lot of your own photos from inside the installation, and I'd noticed a lot of people's photos before that. I've read it's the most Instagrammed room in the entire show. How does that affect the piece — does it add anything to the experience, or take anything away?
That it's the most documented? I think it doesn't do it justice. The show's closing now, but to experience it, it was a lot different.
Do you find it problematic that people are visiting just for the sake of doing a photo shoot?
I find that people aren't necessarily interested. I've noticed that there are people who are interested in the paintings, but there are a lot of people who are just interested in the glowy room to Instagram, if that makes sense. A lot of people went specifically to that show to Instagram that photo and I'm not sure if everybody experienced what I experienced.
I think they give each person a minute in that room, and for me, when I had gone earlier in the week, and then during the show when there was nobody, I was literally in the room for 20 minutes by myself. Experiencing it, right? I was lucky to have that much time with the room and nobody else.
Just enough time to transform into a star child.
Exactly, exactly. I was reborn! (laughs)
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
The 14th Factory. Featuring Simon Birch, Cang Xin, Devin Liston, Dominique Fung, Doug Foster, Eric Hu, Gary Gunn, Gloria Yu, Li Wei, Lily Kwong, Movana Chen, Paul Kember, Penny Rimbaud, Peter Yuill, Prodip Leung, Sara Tse, Scott Carthy, Scott Sporleder, Stanley Wong, Wing Shya, Yang Zhichao. To July 30 at 440 North Ave. 19, Los Angeles. www.the14thfactory.com