Gary Horinek, "The Wait"

Artist Gary Horinek poses in front of his installation piece, “The Wait,” in the Jessie Wilber Gallery inside the Emerson. “The Wait” will open on Friday, Feb. 14.

Gary Horinek, a retired farmer from the Havre area, knows his materials. On Tuesday, he was roughly two weeks into building an installation in the Emerson Center using animal bones, water, rocks and plants, mostly from his farm.

“I grew up in this landscape,” Horinek said. “By taking those plants, taking those things, and putting them in a neutral space, you can isolate that information ... it helped me quite a bit to appreciate the farm and the landscape.”

The installation Horinek is working on, called “The Wait,” is inspired by climate change and its effects on animals and the environment, as well as the complexities of the Earth and the organic material that lives on it.

“Where life exists is just a very thin layer of organic material,” said Horinek. “We sit on a big bowl of pudding with a scab on top of it.”

Horinek uses rocks with lichen on them and large concrete slabs, which represent the Earth’s tectonic plates, as things that have seen the Earth’s multiple mass extinctions.

“They’ve been around for a long time,” he said. “It looks like we’re going to have another extinction ... We’re basically doing the same thing again.”

Horinek has done other installations in D.C. and Portland, as well as various galleries and art centers across the state. He said he was drawn to installation work in part because he couldn’t paint and in part because of the work of pop art installationist George Segal.

While Segal’s installations focus mostly on urban issues and needs, Horinek wanted to translate those feelings into something more familiar to him.

“We all have the same wants and needs and feelings, but different environments,” he said. “I wanted to take that energy and make it more rural.”

The installation, which is being built in the Jessie Wilber Gallery, is a first of its kind for the Emerson.

“To say that this is a new and big step for us is an understatement,” said Alissa Kost, the Emerson’s education curator. “We’ve never had a build out like this before.”

“The Wait” will also be part of the Emerson’s Schools and Seniors in the Gallery program, a cost-free event for school-aged kids. In 2017, the program also started reaching out to senior care centers to bring another generation into the gallery.

“We just have a conversation based around visual thinking,” Kost said.

“I’m pretty excited about the kids,” Horinek said.

Melissa Loveridge can be reached at or at (406) 582-2651.

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