In this traveling exhibition from the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, internationally renowned artist Ginny Ruffner creates a seemingly bleak environment that suddenly evolves into a thriving floral oasis by combining traditional sculpture with augmented reality (AR) technology. In collaboration with animator and media artist Grant Kirkpatrick, Ruffner brings to life a colorful world where glass stumps suddenly sprout mythical flora that have adapted to their surrounding conditions in unexpected, beautiful and optimistic ways. By transforming the CMA lower galleries into a multidimensional experience, Ginny Ruffner: Reforestation of the Imagination calls into question the very notions of reality and fantasy, of concrete and abstract, and of desolation and hope.
Ginny Ruffner is among a vibrant group of artists bringing AR to museum installations. By using this technology as another art media, she transforms visitor experiences. The installation consists of landmasses featuring intricate handblown glass sculptures of tree stumps, with painted tree rings that function as discrete QR codes. These islands surround a landmass that supports a large fiberglass stump sprouting beautifully grotesque bronze and glass appendages. Other than the central stump and the painted shelf mushrooms and tree rings on the surrounding stumps, the scene appears colorless and desolate; however, when viewed through AR’s technological lens an alternate landscape is revealed.
Visitors can download the free app “Reforestation” on their phones or use the iPads in the gallery to bring this second reality to life. When the tree rings of a stump are viewed through the device’s camera lens, a hologram of a fictional plant appears to sprout from the sculpture. These imagined fruits and flowers have evolved from existing flora, developing dramatic appendages and skills necessary to flourish in this radically different environment. In this reality, tulips develop stem flexibility, pears contain windows to the outside world and flowers take on the form of birds. The installation includes Ruffner’s tongue-in-cheek descriptions of her fanciful flora and their remarkable, sometimes humorous adaptations, as well as 19 original drawings by the artist that were the inspiration for the AR images.
“This is nature reimagining itself,” said Ruffner. “The imagination cannot be exterminated. It just re-creates itself. To me, ‘Reforestation’ is about hope.”
Ruffner is based in Seattle and trained at the University of Georgia, graduating with a master’s degree in fine arts in drawing and painting. She is an artist best known for her elegant sculptures and mastery of glass techniques. Ruffner has had more than 85 solo exhibitions and several hundred group shows, and her artwork can be found in numerous national and international collections. Ruffner has also lectured and taught extensively and has served as artist-in-residence at schools and universities around the world.
Kirkpatrick, also based in Seattle, received a master’s degree in fine arts from the Cornish College of the Arts and is an emerging animator and new-media artist. His interests include the intersection of art and technology, particularly VR/AR, game design and mixed-media work.
Ginny Ruffner: Reforestation of the Imagination is organized by the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Generous support for this exhibition is provided by Art Bridges, the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, Elizabeth and James Eisenstein, Ed and Kathy Fries, Shelby and Frederick Gans, James Renwick Alliance, Colleen and John Kotelly, Betty and Whitney MacMillan, Jacqueline B. Mars, Kim and Jon Shirley Foundation, and Myra and Harold Weiss.