NWC News Desk

Rural avant-garde artist lectures Oct. 26

Posted October 12, 2006

P O W E L L, W y o. - Patrick Zentz, a Montana rancher and farmer described as a "rural avant-garde" artist, will talk about the progression of his work at a 7 p.m. public lecture Thursday, Oct. 26, in Room 70 of the Fagerberg Building at Northwest College.

Titled "A Progression of Ideas," Zentz's program incorporates slides to show how one idea evolved into the next during the three decades since he began to study art. His intention is to give individuals, and especially new students, an example of what leading an artist's life is like.

According to art critic Gordon McConnell, Zentz's art found genesis in the "great intellect and passionately engaged spirit" he brought to his life as a rancher and farmer. Zentz interpreted the relationship between today's mechanized farming operation and the land as one where "farmers act on nature with their machines." He wanted to invert this relationship in his art to explore the ways nature can impact machinery.

His "machines" are influenced by elemental forces of nature like wind, flowing water or temperature changes. These influences are translated into drawings or musical sounds. The creations, which he calls "systems," look like pieces of equipment used for scientific purposes but are actually controlled by the natural phenomenon surrounding them. In affect, they translate nature into an art work that allows human observers to understand natural forces in a different way.

His early works, which were temporary and primarily land-based, led to commissions for permanent pieces, one of which, titled "Pool," was installed in 1999 at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Mont.

Zentz calls "Pool" an environmentally-responsive system that "translates the nuances of wind activity into a ripple and wave pattern within a pool of water. The wind's action is detected by an anemometer and wind vane installed on the roof of the museum. The electronic information from these instruments is sent to a programmed chip which controls valves and motors within the sculpture. Dripping at the pool's perimeter indicates the direction from which the wind is blowing. The wave within the ring around the pool shows the current clockwise or counter-clockwise shift in wind direction from its previous state. The copper tubes suspended over the pool provide an acoustic translation of the temperature change throughout the day. As temperature rises, more tubes become active."

http://www.northwestcollege.edu/news/photos/lanterns.jpgHis "Homage to the Pedestrian," commissioned by the Boise City Arts Commission in Idaho, is a series of four lantern bodies. Each one holds a set of acoustically distinct percussive instruments within it. As pedestrians move in front of the lanterns, they trigger proximity sensors that activate the instruments. After activation, the instruments play for 20 seconds and then stop. Varying patterns of pedestrian traffic create different patterns of sound. The system, Zentz said, "essentially translates the patterns of passersby into aural patterns."

His 1985 "Creek Translator" translates the flow of creek water into a musical score which the wind conducts. His "Shore" system translates wind flow and wave pattern on Lake Michigan into sound, and "Signal Hill Translator," installed in Canada, translates direction and intensity of wind aurally while incorporating the shape of Newfoundland into the sound pattern.

In 2002, he installed "Topographic Translator" at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Nevada. The system employees 32 tuning forks around the circumference of a circle that are cut to lengths corresponding to elevations of the landscape taken from a circle 21 miles in diameter. The different tuning fork lengths produce various tones representative of specific geographic places. Electronic information from an exterior anemometer determines when the tuning forks play.

After more than three decades creating his distinct brand of environmental sculpture, Zentz has completed numerous public commissions in many of the western states and as far away as Washington, D.C. His work has been exhibited from Miami, Fla., to Newfoundland, Canada, in a broad array of venues, and has been documented in a long list of magazines and journals, including Newsweek, the Washington Post and Audubon Magazine.

He's been featured on National Public Radio in popular shows like "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition," as well as public radio in Montana. Zentz received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1990. He holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., and a master's degree in sculpture from the University of Montana-Missoula.

In addition to his evening lecture, Zentz will teach an afternoon workshop for NWC students where he will "discuss and demonstrate how we as individuals can coax meaning from the most mundane experience we can image...our own, why that is important, and how all of our imaginations together manifest a sort of corporate superbrain with immense power that we call culture."

Zentz's programs in Powell are sponsored by the Northwest College Art Department. The public is invited to attend the evening lecture free of charge. For additional information contact Elaine deBuhr .