Client: Des Moines Water Works Park - Presented by The Kyle and Sharon Krause Family Foundation
Location: Des Moines, IA, United States
Completion date: 2019
Artwork budget: $250,000
Light & Sound Consulting
Sound Technology Consulting
Water Works Park Foundation
Des Moines Metro Opera & Simpson College
Wander through River Constellation, a site-responsive star-map of illuminated orbs and music that trace the line of the Raccoon River. The globes ebb and flow as the poles emit overlapping sound — a music composition recorded by local musicians woven together with birdsong collected from the Des Moines Water Works Park. Planted like a thicket of trees, each of the 45 poles grows out of a foundation of stacked rings bearing the names of community members whose donations directly support the park. Meander, pause, and be enveloped in the intimate, soft light and sounds of River Constellation.
Integration was fundamental to our approach. River Constellation is a site-responsive work in form, style, and sound - responding to and integrating with the surrounding natural environment and newly constructed renovations. We initially drew inspiration from the Raccoon River shape (a landmark of WaterWorks Park) and the sounds heard onsite - birds, rustling trees, and even distant trains. The overall multimedia public sculpture plays with the experience of meandering through the wooded park - contemplative, solitary yet connective, and a feeling of intimacy within vastness. The light of the 200+globes is programmed to gently pulse from pole to pole, reminiscent of swaying trees or slowly flowing river. The 19hour sound installation softly runs from 5am-12am and is composed of musical phrases and pitches, harmonious with the surrounding natural and industrial sound environment.
Functioning as a donor sculpture, we fully integrated this concept considering donors to be the foundation and protectors of the park. Donor names were etched into metal rings stacked at the base of each pole. Like the rings of a tree, these rings of people provide fortitude and stability to both the growth and safety of the park as well as the poles, glowing orbs, and undulating sound of the sculpture.
Connecting communities through curiosity and empathy is central to our artistic practices. With River Constellation, we strove to create space for curiosity and connection, stillness and movement. It was important for this piece to feel embedded in the community, so we hired and collaborated with local contractors while nurturing these new relationships. This included local Des Moines-area musicians and recording engineer, electricians, and structural engineer. We also cultivated close relationships with the Water Works Park maintenance crew as well as the architectural and construction teams hired to design and execute the overall park renovation.
Together, we have developed a deeply collaborative process with one another, trading drafts and work samples to further a dialogue of inspiration and critique. Once we won the contract from the Water Works Park Foundation to proceed with our vision, we accepted bids from four fabricators. We decided to work with JunoWorks (fabrication) and Dispersion (tech/media design) because they felt aligned with our collaborative approach and were within driving distance from Des Moines. We had weekly virtual meetings with this team for the entire process, from R&D through installation.
Essential to our approach in creating River Constellation is the concept of the donor, who we envision as the foundation and symbolic protectors of the park. On sunny days, when the light of the orbs is less apparent, the orbs cast shadows that elongate and shorten over the course of the day. This, along with the soundscape, creates another level of recognizing the people behind the scenes, the shadows that make this park possible. The sound clip sample only encapsulates a small part of a much larger 19hr composition. It weaves almost silent moments of soft bird sounds into richly layered compositions of vocals - ebbing, flowing, and reconfiguring to create different experiences with each visit. A transducer turns 9 poles into the actual speakers which generates an overall atmospheric ambiance. In addition to representing the donor, the glowing orbs offer multiple levels of meaning for River Constellation: inner light that moves us and illuminates our perspective and guides our intrinsic curiosity; light catching droplets of water; a container to hold our hopes and dreams; bringing something full circle; shapes found throughout the natural and engineered landscape of the park; clusters of stars; and one’s inner peace.