Artist Ginny Ruffner Reimagines Nature

Shanti Boyle
June 25, 2019
A photograph of a person holding an ipad with an image of a flower on it.

Ginny Ruffner with Grant Kirkpatrick, Digitalis artherium (Double art flowers), 2017, sculpture (handblown glass with acrylic paint tree rings), island (plywood, low-density foam, fiberglass, epoxy, sand, pebbles, and acrylic paint), and holographic image. Sculpture: 9 x 13 x 11 1⁄2 in. Installation view at MadArt Studio, 2018. Courtesy MadArt. Photo by James Harnois.

Shanti Boyle is an intern with SAAM's Office of External Affairs and Digital Strategies.

Internationally renowned artist Ginny Ruffner does not consider herself only a glass artist. “I am an artist… glass is just one of the media I use,” she said in an interview with Nora Atkinson, the Lloyd Herman Acting Curator-in-Charge at the Renwick Gallery. In her latest exhibition, Ginny Ruffner: Reforestation of the Imagination, opening June 28, 2019, at the Renwick Gallery, Ruffner combines glass, drawing and augmented reality (AR) technology to create a multidimensional landscape that calls into question our very notions of reality and fantasy, of concrete and abstract, and of desolation and hope.

Imagine an apocalyptic landscape far in the future. At face value, it appears barren, devastated and hopeless. However, by combining traditional sculpture with AR technology, Ruffner transforms that seemingly bleak environment into a thriving floral oasis where glass stumps suddenly sprout mythical flora that have adapted to their surroundings in unexpected, beautiful and optimistic ways. The Seattle-based artist began her own creative journey, after seeing Marcel Duchamp’s painting The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. Starting with glass painting, she later evolved to creating larger glass sculptures. The turning point in her career happened after a horrific car accident left her without a sense of who she was. As a form of self-prescribed therapy, Ruffner began drawing. For her, “creating something, anything, helped me remember who I was.”

This is nature reimagining itself…The imagination cannot be exterminated. It just re-creates itself. To me, Reforestation’ is about hope.

Ruffner’s vibrant, interactive exhibition at the Renwick Gallery has come a long way from her amnesia-fed drawings. Reforestation of the Imagination consists of five islands—each composed of intricate, handblown glass sculptures of tree stumps with discrete QR codes embedded in the painted tree-rings. These five islands surround a sixth larger landmass that supports a fiberglass stump sprouting beautifully grotesque bronze and glass appendages. Visitors are encouraged to download the free Reforestation app to their phones or use the iPads provided as literal lenses into Ruffner’s imagination. The blossoming holograms sprout from the tangible stumps and transform the galleries with some flowers evolving into beautiful birds. Ruffner hopes that viewers are “provoked to wonder about how beauty might evolve” and “invites the viewer to think” about the power of imagination.

Ginny Ruffner: Reforestation of the Imagination is the latest exhibition at the Renwick Gallery to explore and expand the definition of contemporary craft and new technologies. Ginny Ruffner: Reforestation of the Imagination is presented in conjunction with Michael Sherrill Retrospective, which also features botanically inspired sculptures. Both exhibitions are on view from June 28, 2019 through January 5, 2020.

Want to dig a little deeper?

The Renwick Gallery will host a film screening Thursday, July 11, at 6 p.m. in the Bettie Rubenstein Grand Salon of A Not So Still Life (2010; 80 mins.), a documentary that chronicles Ruffner’s artistic journey after a life-altering, physically debilitating car accident in 1991. A Q&A with Ruffner follows the screening.

SAAM has published an interactive “field guide” to the AR images featured in the exhibition. The guide, written and illustrated by Ruffner in collaboration with new media artist Grant Kirkpatrick, features pictures of the glass sculptures with the QR code embedded that can be activated using the Reforestation app on your phone or tablet. It includes Ruffner’s eighteen original drawings and detailed explanations of the artist’s naming conventions for her flowers. The guide also features an interview with Ruffner in which she discusses her artistic background and her inspiration for Reforestation of the Imagination. The publication is available for purchase in the museum store and online ($18.95, softcover). In this interactive book, as in her imagined landscape, the artist asks us to join her in creating a world of possibilities and meaning.


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