Refrain

Refrain is a project that links iron, as an industrial material, to human expansion and destruction. The construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad (1862-1869) was a project that exploited Black Americans and immigrant laborers and enabled the eventual genocide of indigenous people and near extinctions of various species across the United States of America.

Refrain is a sculptural project that represents the first Transcontinental Railroad symbolically through text and scale. I am in my second year of casting interlocking toy train tracks in iron, each embossed with words so the exhibition participants can create sentences with the pieces. Each 6-inch piece will represent a mile of the 1,912 miles first Transcontinental Railroad. At each conference and pour that I attend for the Foundry Tree, I hope to cast more sections. I plan to exhibit this work in stages and cast a track for each locale that hosts the Foundry Tree.

I will connect Foundry Tree to the Refrain by connecting to iron pours and iron casting artists I meet through the conferences, to map the foundry tree through a physical representation. My ultimate goal is to cast and present the work at institutions/art centers across the US over the ensuing years until I eventually cast all 1,912 pieces. I am proud to note that on March 2, 2018, the first two pieces of Refrain were cast outside the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Columbus Building at the first on-campus iron pour. To date I have 57 pieces cast. I hope to have 200 pieces cast by the end of the second year, then 100 each year for the next 17 years.

I am currently working to maintain the longevity of this projects by collaborating with Nancy Spiegel, Bibliographer at University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library. to source literature from the time period of  the first Transcontinental Railroad. I will utilize the word pairing as content to stamp words on the front and backs of the tracks while in wax. I hope to draw connections to contemporary issues of violence towards immigrants, environment, and children. These wooden toys, recast in iron, reference a handgun in scale and material. The literature I have been resourcing is often violent.

Through the large/small scale and long timeline involved I hope to underscore a reference to the social, environmental, and human impact of the Transcontinental Railroad and the continued need for understanding the cycles of national violence, which we inherit and pass onto our children. I see this as a project to that will steer my artistic activities over the ensuing years, as well as my goal to include my children in my art life and practice.

As of November of 2019, 172 tracks have been cast.

53 of the first 57 iron tracks cast. Photo taken September 2019

(Link here for images of the PROCESS of making these Refrain tracks.)

Ari and Ima Akagawa set up this configuration September 2019

By March 2019, the first 35 tracks were cast in iron. Some of them are documented (both sides) below:

Set 1. Side A
Set 1. Side B
Set 4. Side A
Set 4. Side B
Fourteen of the first thirty-five track pieces cast. Ari Akagawa configuration in April, 2019

Link here for images of the PROCESS of making these Refrain tracks.