In addition to the 4 million lights aglow on the Mission Inn for the Festival of Lights, there will be one standout – a rotating beacon in the nearby UC Riverside’s Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts.
It’s a lighthouse, or more precisely, the top fifth of one, constructed by Los Angeles-based multimedia artist Daniel Hawkins. The 13-foot welded steel and frosted plexiglass structure flanked by backdrops of painted acrylic desert landscapes on unstretched canvas will take three days to install. It will be open to the public from Nov. 22 through March 14.
Called “Desert Lighthouse Ultimatum,” the project is part of a 40-foot lighthouse artwork. Hawkins is building it in an unincorporated area called Hinkley in the Mojave Desert, 14 miles northwest of Barstow. He did his homework, making sure the imitation mimicked an authentic lighthouse.
“Although the Festival of Lights is a spectacle bringing tourists, this project has meaning besides the spectacle of bright lights,” said Tyler Stallings, artistic director of the Culver Center. “The idea of a lighthouse in the desert is absurd and also ambiguous. A beacon in the desert suggests many things, such as spiritual renewal, drawing attention to the landscape we think of as barren in the Mojave. That area is populated by survivalists and the military and is home to secrets.”
Born in Colorado Springs, Hawkins, 27, has lived all over the country and considers himself “a traveling nomad.” As a teen, he found trips through the Mojave disorienting, “producing intense, agoraphobic anxieties. I used to think, ‘If only there was a light there.’”
After graduating from UCLA, he decided to let there be light in the desert. Four years ago, he constructed his first lighthouse prototype on public land in the Mojave, a 20-foot skinny pylon topped by a rotating beacon. State troopers immediately shut it down. Undaunted and helped by a grant, he bought 5 acres of private land for $5,000 in Hinkley and built his second lighthouse two years ago as his MFA project at UC Irvine. This time scavengers ravaged his work.
Hawkins’ exhibition at the Culver Center will incorporate drawings, paintings, sketches, videos and sculptural renderings of these two previous lighthouse endeavors and failures.
Once the Culver show ends, Hawkins will try again to erect a permanent lighthouse and 360-degree painted backdrop on his property in Hinkley. Only this time he’ll protect the project with barbed wire and a Web security camera.
– LAURIE LUCAS
This article was originally published on November 10th, 2014 in The Press Enterprise.