I had a chance to talk with Ginny Ruffner when she came to the Museum for a viewing of the film A Not So Still Life: The Ginny Ruffner Story from director Karen Stanton. Along with The Fund for Women, the Museum presented the film which explores the fascinating life of this world renowned artist.
What was your inspiration for When Lightning Blooms?
That piece is part of the Aesthetic Engineering series, which is a group of sculptures I’ve been working on for six or seven years and it was originally inspired by the amazing developments in genetic engineering particularly the inter kingdom sharing of genes between plants and animals. They put pig genes in beets to make them bigger, walrus genes in tomatoes to make them frost proof – it’s amazing what they’re doing! And what it makes me do is it makes me think – well what if? What if there were genetic implications for things? What I’m creating is hybridizing things that don’t have genes and thinking – what if?
In the case of When Lightning Blooms, it was what if lightning could bloom? What if lightning had a gene where it could flower, what would that look like? It’s fascinating to me; it’s evocative. That’s what generates my wonder machine.
That’s what I wanted to ask about next – how do you cultivate your creativity? Your wonder machine?
Thinking. I think a lot. I don’t watch TV, although I do watch basketball! I read a lot, and more importantly I spend time every day just thinking! And when I read something, I think about it. It makes me wonder. One subject that is really evocative and thought provoking for me is genetics and what’s actually happening in genetics, it’s not just what if? – it’s what’s happening now, and that inspires me to think.
What’s it like being a woman and a glassblower?
The glass world is predominantly male. There are many more male glassblowers, and if you were to get a list of who the artists are in museums, I would say it’s probably more than fifty percent male – it’s different now with Tina [Oldknow, modern glass curator] here, and there are more women in the field than there used to be.
Being a woman affects my work in that I tend to be an over achiever, and I like how it is – it’s just another challenge. But in terms of the way I look at the world that might affect my artmaking – if I start making broad generalizations that department it sounds stereotypical, but I think that I’m more open to the whole gestalt of it – seeing the world, looking for connections.
Tell me more about taking on challenges
Well it’s a challenge to be female in any art field. The art world is very male-dominated – critics, artists, writers, museum people. And, being an artist over 30, there is a bias for youth in the art world. But also, new media, blogs and all that, that could be a challenge, but I think of it as an invitation. I love to learn, I’m pretty tech-savvy! The challenge for me is that I have so many ideas. I would love to incorporate more technology in my work, which is a challenge because I don’t have the specific skills to do that.
Are you working on any partnerships to work with technology?
Oh, I talk with people all the time, so who knows what will happen!
In the film, you ask people “What do you want to do with your life?” So, what’s next for you, what do you want to do with your life?
Well, specifically what’s next – the Aesthetic Engineering show is opening in Huntsville Museum in 2014 and they’re going to tour that around to other museums for about 5 years after that. And I am going to write – that’s another challenge – yesterday I went to a women’s writer’s retreat. I want to write a book that goes with the traveling show. I’ve written a couple pop-up books that accompany two previous traveling shows and I love pop-ups, but I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a pop-up writer. But, I love that with pop-ups, you’re making words move and it’s a true intersection of visual and verbal.
I thought maybe there’s something that exists in that space in between; nobody’s done that that I know of. On the way here I was thinking about how I would like to do a book that has visuals in it – creativity is what I know, so I would need to make it about creativity. And I want to make it not a pop-up, but something beyond words on a page. I’m doing these little conventional words on paper, that are kind of like visual rapping, because they’re sampling a bunch of different things. It’s a really raw idea, but having a picture book with audio and lyrics, I don’t know – it’s all brand new!
When I asked about the accident in 1991 that greatly affected her life, Ginny said, “To me it’s old news. It is one of the answers to your question about challenges. If I could, I would talk a lot faster, and I hate not being able to walk fast, those are my challenges. I won’t quit until I can run again. I’d be bored if I gave up, and I don’t want to be bored.”