In RR, an 8-foot segment of railroad track – including gravel, railroad ties, and steel rails – is set between two vertical panes of two-way mirrored plexiglas. When viewing the artwork from its mirrored ends, a theatrical, near-cinematic illusion is created of a railroad extending into infinity, yet when walking around the sculpture’s open sides the illusion collapses back into finite immediate tactility.

The duality of this work as both reflective illusion and sculptural object mirrors the complicated history of railroads, as a symbol for expansion, freedom, and empowerment (eg: Underground Railway), and as a repeated instrument of genocide, as with the Native Americans during the Westward Expansion (of which San Francisco was the “final stop”) and European Jews “resettled to the east” in the Holocaust.

RR’s hauntingly simple, dreamlike image can seem like a sweet promise or an elegy. From the side, it seems pragmatic and positive, but also conjures the banality of evil. Few physical objects so directly connect a forward-looking promise of prosperity and transformation — the railroad is virtually synonymous with Modernism and the Industrial Revolution — with such dark and shameful pages from human history. 

With its arresting mash-up of mutually exclusive artistic mediums, RR is the embodiment of paradoxical emotions, narratives, and ways of perceiving the world — and this contradiction opens a space where we can reflect on how we got here, where we’re headed, and what illusions and promises we may be riding at this very moment. 

RR, 2009 (Detail)

Security mirror Plexiglas, wood, gravel, steel railroad track, and painted steel.
84 x 50 x 96 in.

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