In one exhibition, Cristina Marian has completely redefined who she is as an artist. 

"I work flat, on a 2-D surface," the artist said this week, describing paintings, drawings and murals in a narrative, childlike form. 

Yet for installation piece "Tactile | Time," now at the Exit Gallery, Marian, who will turn 40 in a couple weeks, has emerged into a 3-D space. 

"I'm completely awestruck," said Mirandi Bakken, the gallery's assistant director. "It's beautiful."

The work is made from poplar, shaved thin to create a timeline of sorts. But Marian doesn't give direction to the viewer. On one wall, the thin timeline flows through a box and erupts into colors. You could take it as birth and childhood, but Marian points out a section near the supposed beginning of abstract underwater creatures, an image from a recent visit to the Seattle Aquarium. 

"If before I would have illustrated my ideas and stories, now I like this kind of loose abstract," she said. 

In one section, bits of conversation emerge, with words like "acum," or "now" in her native Romanian and "acolo" or "there." There are power or phone lines, Marian said remind her of the long-distance connection with her family. Others are blank, like lapses in memory. One portion is disconnected and boxed in, which Marian feels relates to her time in grad school at Montana State University. It's part of the timeline, yet disconnected. 

"I'm floating in this space between home in Romania and here, this new home," Marian said. "How do I make people feel that space in between?"

Marian grew up in Curtea de Arges in communist Romania, where a teacher told her class if they didn't have books or pictures they should make their own. Marian took the advice, entering international art contests and eventually moving to Bucharest at 13 to go to a high school where she could study art. 

Art has become how Marian connects to people and how she processes life. Art helped her through a divorce much as it did the transition for her home country from communism to democracy. It's all there in "Tactile | Time," if only in abstractions. 

"I kind of always live in these transitions," she said. 

Rachel Hergett is the editor of Ruckus, the arts and culture publication of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She can be reached at rhergett@dailychronicle.com or (406) 582-2603.

Rachel Hergett can be reached at rhergett@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2603. Hergett is on Twitter at @hergett.