“This is nature reimagining itself. The imagination can’t be exterminated. It just recreates itself.”

This is how artist Ginny Ruffner describes her newly opened exhibition at the Renwick Gallery, titled “Reforestation of the Imagination”. 

Ginny Ruffner is famous for her elegant sculptures and mastery of glass techniques, but recently, she has been creating an interactive viewer experience by combining traditional glass sculpture and Augmented Reality (AR) technology. 

The exhibition Reforestation of the Imagination is no exception, and users can use a downloadable app that superimposes digital information over sculptures that seem barren, allowing the artist to create two distinct realities to explore.

Apocalyptic Landscape and Hope for the Future?


With this installation, she gives us an image of an apocalyptic landscape far in the future. The installation is made of six islands, each one containing colorless glass sculptures of tree stumps, with the barren and bleak landscape. Five islands are surrounding a sixth larger landmass that supports a fiberglass stump sprouting beautifully grotesque bronze and glass appendages. Ruffner’s idea was to show a gloriously complex and colorful alternative environment that viewers can see with AR’s technological lens. 

At first glance, it appears barren, devastated, and hopeless, but with the use of AR technology, we get to see a bleak environment transform into a thriving floral oasis with glass stumps suddenly sprouting mythical flora that has adapted to its surroundings to create a new, beautiful and optimistic world. In her own words – “You just never know what is going to happen. Even if there’s an apocalypse, maybe life will evolve, and maybe it will be really beautiful.”

The plants have evolved from existing fruits and flowers, developing dramatic appendages and skills necessary to flourish in this radically different environment. The blossoming holograms sprout from the tangible stumps and transform the galleries with some flowers evolving into beautiful birds. Ruffner has written and illustrated a field guide for visitors that will give them more information about the flora. In the guide, she explains the origins of the strange plants she’s dreamed up, complete with scientific names

Reality or Fantasy?


The exhibition calls into question our perceptions of reality and fantasy, concrete and abstract, and desolation and hope while putting the focus on contemporary ecological issues. Where other people see desolation, artist Ginny Ruffner sees hope, which is why she designed these fictional species to adapt to their surrounding conditions in a means unexpected, beautiful, and optimistic. 

Ruffner reveals that the hardest part of creating “Reforestation of the Imagination” was learning how to do a little computer programming for the augmented reality component. Most of the AR work was done by a digital artist – Grant Kirkpatric, but Ruffner was there for the entire process, learning and creating. She hopes that viewers are provoked to wonder about how beauty might evolve and she invites the viewer to think about the power imagination has.

Reforestation of the Imagination Exhibition opened on June 28, 2019, at The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and it will be on display until  January 5, 2020.

Artist & Collaborator Bios


Ginny Ruffner is a Seattle artist who originally received her MFA in painting from the University of Georgia. Ruffner had over 80 solo shows, several hundred group shows, and her work is in 55 permanent museums and public collections around the world. Grant Kirkpatrick is an emerging animator and new media artist based in Seattle. After studying at the Cornish College of the Arts for three years, he graduated with a focus on motion design and animation. He is showing interest in the intersection of art and technology, particularly virtual reality, augmented reality, game design, and mixed media work.

Download the Free App Now

The holographic images in this installation and in the accompanying field guide can be activated through your phone’s camera. Download the free app Reforestation and follow the prompts.


Check out this mind-blowing video about the Reforestation Of The Imagination.