Sound artist Aaron Hoke Doenges is bringing a new perspective to Ohio’s diverse river system in “Wade,” his most recent installation art piece. “Wade” is a sound art exhibit on the footbridge adjacent to South Main Street in Mount Vernon, crossing the Kokosing River. The piece showcases the river’s significance to pedestrians on the bridge.
The sounds “Wade” produces are determined by data representing the depth and motion of the river collected in real time from the United States Geological Survey website. The data is reflected in changing pitches that combine to form a haunting composition. As pedestrians cross the bridge, other sounds are integrated to represent footsteps melding with the river’s movement. The sounds gradually fluctuate from high to low pitches and volumes to create a subtle ambience.
“Wade” presents a spiritual reverence for nature and provides a space for those who cross the bridge to be part of nature themselves. Doenges said that this spiritual sensation is rooted in his experience studying the intersection of art and religion at Vanderbilt University Divinity School. The bridge lies between a Comfort Inn and a storage facility, but over the course of the short walk across, “Wade” turns the Kokosing and the bridge itself into an immersive experience.
For Doenges, this immersion is intentional. He aims to support the development of community through his art, a community in which everyone is welcomed. When interacting with his piece, Doenges has similar reactions to those who experience it for the first time. “I experience it really kind of as a piece of mystery, and kind of a piece about the unknown,” he said. “There’s so much I don’t know about the other individuals in my community and there’s something mysterious and beautiful about that unknown, and also the process of trying to get to know the unknown … the communion that happens between people.”
Growing up in Mount Vernon, Doenges experienced his own struggles with community. “Community for a long time was a challenging thing for me,” he said. “I grew up in a pretty conservative community, and in high school realized that I was gay.” Doenges explained how his sexual identity distanced him from his community: “that absence has increased my awareness of the importance of community in my life, and especially for those who are frequently excluded from communities.”
Doenges plans to continue exploring the connection between art and community in his future works. His next project is a study of the transit system in Nashville, Tenn., where Doenges currently resides. The interactive piece will allow community members to express their own opinions about the Nashville transit system and offer ideas for its improvement. The project will be released in the next six weeks.
Doenges’ piece encourages Kenyon students to experience nature and to form relationships within the community of which he was not always a part. “Wade” will remain open to the public on the footbridge in Mount Vernon until September 8.