Anne Yoncha doesn’t remember exactly what she was reading when the word “ecotone” sprung up off the page, into her head. But it described perfectly what she and her fellow masters of fine arts students were working on at the University of Montana — a meeting of biology and art, natural and manmade, mixed media.
The dictionary definition: a transitional zone between two communities that contains characteristics of both.
“We all work in different media and pretty diverse themes,” Yoncha said. “The one thing we can find as a point of intersection in all of our practices is the land or the place where we’re working.”
That spurred the show — named “Ecotone” — that Yoncha and her fellow cohorts Casey Schachner, Dean Leeper and Jesse Blumenthal curated in the UC Gallery. They recruited six other artists whose work is inspired by the natural world.
There’s David Hutchins’ piece “Extraction,” which consists of metal extracted from water in and around Butte, the thin sheets of metal placed next to vials of the water they came from.
Visual artist Jay Bruns mixes photography with “visual synthesizers,” which create digital swaths of pattern and color that bend landscape photos like a surrealistic aurora borealis.
Cameron Decker’s piece “Transference: X Marks the Spot” is made of Flathead River clay, formed and fired in flat circles that have a woven pattern stamped into them. The circles are formed into the shape of a giant turtle, as seen from above.
There’s blown glass, sculpture and three-dimensional installations, all packed into the small UC Gallery. The cohort worked from experience — they’ve put on shows in the Frontierspace gallery downtown, a tiny room that begs for unusual ideas to fill it.
“We’ve put together some unusual exhibitions before,” Yoncha said. “You can’t really make a plan until you see everything in the space.”
As the “Ecotone” title suggests, despite the various media, size and style of the pieces, Yoncha felt they worked together well, saying it “ended up being more aesthetically cohesive than any of us thought it would be.”
“Our differences meshed really well,” Blumenthal said. “Everyone’s so accomplished in their media.”
Blumenthal brought in the scientist/artist Hutchins, who teaches at Montana Tech, and UM Western professor Michael Hengler, who helps students earn the only four-year degree in glass blowing in the country.
Blumenthal’s contribution is a swing bicycle that twists on the seat and handlebars to allow for a greater range of movement. He pieced together found bike parts and fabricated his own to build the first piece of “rolling artwork” to come from Free Cycles’ budding artist-in-residency program.
Yoncha’s own work, “Lag,” is a series visualizing “hidden processes,” specifically steps in mucuna seed germination. She stretches cotton over an image and uses dyes and yarn to represent the seed’s growth in the ground.
“That boundary between art and science is more fluid than we think,” Yoncha said. “That’s what we’re hoping, organically, ultimately maybe comes out of this.
“People coming together from different places.”