SIMON BIRCH AND THE 14TH FACTORY
Meet Simon Birch. Hong Kong was his first artistic platform. Read on to understand where his passion for art stems from.
1. When and how did you first become interested in art? How long have you been an artist for?
I was born this way. I never stopped drawing and painting. Sadly, I grew up in a less than nourishing environment, other than a mum who is a great painter and art teacher. So I never went to school, and did a variety of working class jobs from the age of 15. Art was always my secret obsession. Oddly, I found my platform in Hong Kong, arriving in 1997 as a construction worker, where there was no platform. I built my own and sold my first painting back in 2001. I quit the day job soon after… One sale was all the motivation I needed.
2. What message do you convey through your work? Does it contain aspects of your personality?
All my work is a self-portrait. But it’s your portrait too. When I paint it’s more intuitive, unlike the installation work which is very much planned, researched and specific. But the same energy is there. My direct experience, justice, fear, love, hope, violence, the gamut of human experience poured into every brush stroke or frame of film. A response and reflection, the world and myself.
3. How do you choose the people that you paint? Must they have certain characteristics?
Mostly friends but I certainly pick traumatized subjects. I can relate. As per the previous comment, in some ways I paint me even though it’s someone else on the canvas.
4. What message did you wish to convey when you put together The 14th Factory in Los Angeles? Do you believe it was a success?
I honestly just hoped people would just go and see it. After 5 years and countless failures, shut downs, walls and frustrations, I can barely believe it actually exists. Perhaps, personally, I hope they feel the authenticity and commitment and sacrifice necessary to realize it. But as far as the art itself… I hope people feel a connection to the work and that borderless environment, the lack of formal, institutional environment, a different way to engage, that the work merges with you and the building and in turn, the neighbourhood.
Our trade is art, love, inspiration, and the removal of borders within the walls of our factory/enclave, with easy access for all. Diverse, inclusive, The 14th Factory represents a thoroughfare of input and export both emotional and communicable. Hopefully we are an example of the benefits of globalisation, this glowing, creative meteor, thumping down into a culturally underserved community, with their permission and endorsement.
But within the walls are warnings, reflections of the state of the contemporary, global landscape. Dark, explosive, massive sculptural masses, airplane parts disconnected from their host vehicle, luxury sports cars destroyed, hundreds of factory workers brawling. It’s no walk in the park…though admittedly we do have a park but even that, terra formed inside the factory suggestion the inevitable loss of our environment and the need to inhabit new ones artificially.
The 14th Factory is a one stop shop to reflect, enlighten and give hope through transformation.
Warhol’s Factory was a different time and intention and sense of fashion but equally offered a new paradigm in art presentation and production, the post industrial process conceptually realised in art production.
Our relationship with that piece of art history I would suggest is in terms of its relationship to the established art world rather than any parallels with ways of producing, delegating or collaborating. Different times and a very different project and a very different artist.
5. Do you have any comments about the art installation incident in which a lady knocked down your display while taking a selfie?
Ha. Well it was just another day at the Factory and one of many amusing incidents. I thought little of it at the time but one of the staff insisted on posting it online and it went viral, much to my surprise and before we knew it were on every channel in the world from BBC to CNN to Pakistan Daily news. What was fascinating was the data stream, the explosion of that story across media. It was crazy to see. But equally the complete lack of fact checking and diligence. It was reported as one of the most expensive selfies ever which was far from the truth as most of the work damaged was repaired, not destroyed and a number of other details that were incorrect. It happened just a week before we closed so sadly we didn't get any benefit from the attention, even with 5 news stations barging in the next morning to report on it. We did a panel discussion about it that was very lively the week after. But hey, these are just the times we are living in.
6. Do you have a favourite city? Is there a certain place where you feel the most creative freedom and feel you are surrounded by like-minded people?
Maybe it’s not always good to be around like minded people, where’s the challenge in that? But I guess I buy into the Dunbars Number theory, popularised in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, that successful communities are made of around 150 people. So for me somewhere everyone knows everyone and you can’t get away with being a d***. But I don’t have a specific favourite city, I’d rather take the best of many perhaps, and create a new one. But for sure I feel most creative freedom in a good solid studio, away from the noise. Something I’ve sadly has to sacrifice in my pursuit of this rather ambitious project.
7. Name your top three artistic influences. Do you have a favourite artist?
I like artists that take risks and are very committed. And my list changes constantly. So this week it’s Tehching Hsieh, Kahlil Joseph, Theaster Gates.
8. Do you have important advice that you would like to share with the Millennials that reside in Asia?
Oh God no! I’d rather listen to them than give advice. But maybe take positive action with clarity rather than b******* on social media. And don’t listen to your parents unless they are happy, loving, kind, generous and empathetic people!
9. What do you think are the benefits and drawbacks about being a Third Culture Kid in the art world?
Cross cultural insight is wonderful and the perspective it brings can be very powerful if you choose to take advantage of that. The potential of a new tribe that is an anti-tribe, with no singular history to believe in. Nationalism, patriotism, centralised authority that is more and more disconnected from us and creating more borders… To be third culture is outside this so one feels even more uncomfortable. Much of this born on the back of colonialism, which has led to globalisation, which has separated us further. Third culture kids have crossed borders at the same time they are being re-enforced. So it’s challenging to have that experience and it might feel but you gotta own it, we are the future.
Of course the downside is the previous generation can’t relate but just like the dinosaurs they’ll be gone soon.
10. Are you currently working on a new project?
What’s next…. I was already working on the next show a month into the LA show’s run. And I haven’t stopped working on it since. I took 3 days off last week. That’ll do. Time is the only luxury so I don’t want to waste too much recovering plus I feel the momentum of what we have created and want to keep it moving. So The 14th Factory up-cycled version will be here in less than a year.I’m working on those additions and improvements now but the core of the projects will stay the same. The journey.
The main change is of course location, somewhere else on the planet, bigger space, and of course we learned so much building a pop-up art museum of sorts, we will do a much better job or running, programming and connecting this time. I’d guess we will be open in less than a year and it won’t be in the US. So I’m currently in negotiation with space, working with strategic partners, hustling for support and finding people way smarter than me to make sure it’s wonderful. That’s all I can tell you for now…
You can check out Simon’s awesome artwork at https://www.the14thfactory.com
THE SHOCKING JAPANESE PRACTICE OF HIGH SCHOOL DATING
High school dating should be about fun and innocence. However, in Japan, there is an appalling culture of dates between high school girls and older men in their 50s. Meet Jun Tachibana who is working hard to change this terrible practice that preys on the young and vulnerable.
1. How did you first hear about this culture of high school girls going on paid dates with older men?
I first heard the story whilst interviewing teenage girls with difficulties (girls who felt that it was hard to lead their lives). Many girls were involved in paid dating. At the same time, the Japanese media was also covering stories on high school dating.
2. How well-known is this problem in Japan? Is this phenomenon known as just "rumours" or is it a fact?
In Japan, this problem is known as a fact because there are journalists reporting this issue. But not many people hear the stories from the girls themselves.
3. What type of girls are attracted to this industry? Do they walk down this path due to financial problems, or is it due to emotional or social problems (such as family issues)? Perhaps psychological or physical abuse?
Many of the girls are attracted to this industry due to living difficulties. There are girls who don’t feel safe at home because of family problems, poverty, abuse, neglect, or girls who feel they don’t belong in school. They need places they can earn money or where they feel they belong, accepted or needed. Sometimes, “normal girls” without problems in their daily lives are also attracted to this industry as it is an easy well-paid job, without knowing the risks. When girls search the internet for “high hourly wage” or “part time jobs”, information about “high school dating” hits the search engine. Pimps advertise the dating as if it is an easy and safe high-wage job. Vulnerable children are targeted the most.
Many girls involved in this industry have a tendency to:
- Have low self-esteem (some feel as if the recruiter and customers are the only ones who give them a sense of acceptance).
- Need money due to poverty, abuse, running away etc…
- Need to earn money in a short amount of time. It may be because they have to keep it secret from abusers so that the money is not taken away, or because they need to go back home early to care for family instead of their parents.
- Not know that there are places they can ask for help with financial or family problems. They feel that pimps and customers are the only way to help them earn money and find a place to stay.
4. What about the girls who reassure that they know what they are doing, and want to be allowed to make a living?
Some know it is a dangerous job, but have no other choice in order to live. I think we need to have an easily accessible place where high school girls can connect to public services and social welfare. For example, a place like a café where high school girls can drop by and have a talk with staff who understand their vulnerability.
5. Is it a cultural issue? Or is it education that has allowed this industry to grow and flourish?
When it comes to culture, Japanese men tend to see high school girls as “sexually attractive”, and Japanese society also tends to allow it. Japanese society tends to think of child prostitution as the girls’ problem and girls are blamed instead of the man who bought them. Many tend to think that girls involved in high school dating are doing it just for money or for fun, and not many people know or care about their backgrounds (poverty, abuse, family problems, etc.) Japanese society doesn’t pay much attention to teenage difficulties, so when high school girls have nowhere to go, pimps and men wanting sexual relationships with girls tend to be the only ones paying attention to them.
Education is also a problem. In Japan, we do not have a proper program for sexual health education. Students don’t learn about safe sex, how to avoid pregnancy, sexually-transmitted disease, what is violence and what is not. We also don’t learn about sexual violence, exploitation and abuse in school, so both boys and girls tend to allow violence without realising it is “violence”. They also don’t know that the high school dating business in Japan counts as sexual exploitation.
6. For those who are exploited - what can you do?
We patrol busy areas to find girls who might need help, and prevent girls from getting into trouble by offering consultation by email, telephone or face-to-face meetings. If they need more help, we introduce other specialists such as lawyers, doctors or child welfare specialists. It is difficult for vulnerable high school girls to ask someone for help.
Listening to their stories allows us to help in several ways.
- It makes girls stop and think about themselves, about their real feeling, what they are going through, etc. We tell them that they have rights to say “no” for what they don’t want to do.
- Even if the girl thinks she is alright, she’d know where to call help when they get in danger or trouble. Girls will be safer with the right knowledge and connections.
- When they need help, or get in trouble, we can introduce or collaborate with other organisations.
- They might also suffer complex problems at home or school, so we hear backgrounds, and let them know that there are ways and people who can help them. We talk to the media and the government about the background and troubles young girls are going through, and make society realise that it’s not the girl’s personal responsibility, but it’s an issue our society has to face and solve. It is not a matter of “young girls choosing their way to live”, it is about “child protection”.
7. Is it society's obligation to protect those who can't protect themselves?
It is society’s obligation to protect those who can’t protect themselves. At the same time, it is also important to give them the ability to avoid troubles by allowing them chance to think about themselves. They should be able to meet various people that can shine a light on other ways of living.
8. What can Japan do about it? What can the world do about it?
Japanese society has to change their way of thinking about high school girls’ problems. It is a matter of child protection, sexual exploitation and child welfare. International media has a strong influence on Japanese society. Reporting this issue in foreign countries can shake the perspective of the Japanese society and government.
The Bond Project works with many vulnerable young girls at risk. Donating is a great way to help us reach a child! If you would like to donate to this worthy cause please log onto their main website at http://bondproject.jp/support.html#support_04
KRISNA PATRA: LET'S GET BACK TO BASICS
Meet Krisna, a Eurasian musician based in Bali who loves ethnic music and believes that it holds the history and culture of many generations. He dreams of going back to basics and living a life that is in harmony with nature. This eco-activist shares with us his idea of success and tells us how life is like for a mixed kid in the music industry.
1. Tell us about your childhood, your roots, your culture.
I was born and bred in Bali, a small island in Indonesia. My father is Balinese and my mother is originally English, but was raised in Australia and moved here to the island in her early 20s. Growing up here in Bali has been a real blessing. Experiencing the Balinese culture while having an understanding of how the world works from a global perspective has really expanded my outlook on how things work.
As a mixed kid, I felt a struggle to fit in a certain ‘category’ for a while but in time I grew to realize that it’s actually a blessing. I am able to live the best of both worlds. As far as I know, my mother’s roots are Scandinavian, Italian, and English. On the other hand, my father is Balinese, and I believe we also have a strong Chinese influence.
The culture here is very strong and incorporates Hindu practices. There is also a strong and powerful national pride.
2. What sort of music gets you excited and why?
I love ethnic music because it takes my mind somewhere else. Music that has been played for a long time and in many different cultures. It makes me feel that music has been such a great tool for communication for so long, maybe even before language itself!
3. Could you explain the music you play?
At the moment, I am working on a solo project using a loop station. I play a few instruments, but it is difficult to do it all at the same time, so with a loop station I can record live instruments I use one by one. It is hard to explain which genre it is, I just play what feels good to me, what moves me. If I had to name a few it would be ethnic reggae, roots, funk and soul.
4. Where do you see yourself a year from now?
My aim is to travel the world playing music at different festivals. I’m hoping this dream will come true by 2018.
5. How do you define success?
Success to me is to be content with what you do. Finding enjoyment in your passion. I’ m very lucky to be pursuing what I do, by doing what I love. To be really honest I feel pretty successful already!
I do also feel like the ultimate goal of success is to be completely self-sustainable, in every way. Not just career wise but also in all the necessities we need to survive, such as food, water, clothes, etc. by growing your own food, making your own clothes, but this is a long term goal.
6. What sort of message do you convey through your music?
I try to raise awareness about current situations. For example, in Bali, we have a very severe trash problem. Most people come to the island for a holiday not realising where their rubbish goes, so I try and explain this through the microphone. Or even plastic straws, something so simple, but also so easily eradicated.
7. What is your idea of a utopia?
To co-exist alongside nature. Finding that balance and harmony we once had with nature. I feel like we have lost touch with the flow of nature for so long we don’t even know how to survive anymore without machines and gadgets. To go back to the bare necessities is what I dream of. Incorporating technology like reusable energy sources as opposed to fossil fuels.
8. Does being a Third Culture Kid affect your music and the way you are treated in the music industry?
I think so. Most people on the island think I am a foreigner, so they definitely treat me a little differently. But I try and not focus on appearances to much, as I wish for people to listen with their ears as opposed to judging me with their eyes.
9. Who are your top three musical influences?
They’ve got to be: DUB FX, Josue Gonzales, and WAR.
Check out Krisna’s latest tunes on https://soundcloud.com/nyomankrisnapatra