1994, 2005 Fellow
New Zealand native Ruth Allen studied glass in Australia. She has worked in countries around the world and returned to New Zealand for five years to run a hot glass studio, Gloria, with business partner Vivian Bell. Her first Resident Fellowship at the Creative Glass Center of America was in 1994 and her second in Fall, 2005. Wherever she is, she feels the influence of her homeland remains “second nature to me. We’re an island nation and if I’m not close to the ocean or surrounded by water in some capacity, I’m disturbed. And I don’t want to look at it if I can’t get in it. I’ve been swimming all my life. Swimming is my device to become calm; It’s just like food to me.”
A palpable sense of environment is also at the center of Allen’s thoughts about glass right now: a sense of color and light and fluidity. Beyond this, she wants to create environments that are healing or comforting. “I’m working with a lot of color. Color is quite a powerful tool to create mood.” She places pieces of color on walls, in order to consider the effect and is moving toward the use of colored light. “Skin absorbs light and that is why in history the Egyptians and prehistoric civilizations used sunlight chambers for medicinal purposes. The idea is that light is a healing source. By using colored light, I believe I can manipulate people in a healing way.”
Color and light are common devices to influence people in specific environments. Allen says, “Color is used in jails. Blue quiets aggression. It’s all relevant to the [individual] as well. If you’re brought up in a violent or angry domestic situation, then red, a color of anger, is a soothing color.”
She envisions an even more sophisticated use of color to heal the psyche. She begins with insights based on personal experience. “Every human being encounters a situation that is difficult to cope with. I became really depressed because of some life situation and I found it difficult to move through it. I was blowing glass at the time. I started making blue pebbles with lights inside them.” Setting the lights on timers, she organized the pebbles into an environment that was “fluid and soothing.” She soon found that sitting in this space for extended periods of time was helpful to her.
Allen hopes she can use this evolving understanding “maybe for people who are sick, maybe terminally ill, to have a space where people can go and sit and be quiet and be comforted, that becomes a patient’s nest. If colored light has the potential to change feelings, you never know, it may have more healing properties.”
In addition to a degree from Canberra School of Art and a degree in community cultural development, Allen is currently earning a Master of Fine Arts through research at Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria. Currently, she says she is developing “a space in the hospital which works with the mind and with light. It’s a long term project because I have to do a lot of research to actualize it, but at this time it’s very vibrant and buoyant.”
Allen has studied poets and artists who use space and light, from the triangular yellow room by Bruce Nauman to the geodesic domes of architect Buckminster Fuller to subtle light works by James Turrell. She was also influenced by working with now CGCA Artistic Director Hank Adams at Pilchuck in 1993 and shares his interest in “community and sustainability and the synergetic nature of process and material.”
At CGCA, she concentrated on making modules of pulled glass, angular open and irregular lacy frameworks, which are intended to cast complex shadows. Scale is an issue because as she adds new cells or “rings” to the piece, the completed part cools and repeated reheating can be too much. “I am working with gravity, leverage, heat, and constructing these things in such a way that the piece speaks for itself. The process lends itself to this form. This is a little bit of a physics equation. I can start with a foundation of only six rings. As I am pulling the rings, I am only really considering the aesthetics, but I have to be careful how I manipulate them because I don’t want to weaken the forms. The piece captures a moment in time. I am calling them ‘Synergetics’ because no part of the piece can exist without the other parts.”
These pieces, though, are destined to be components of a large post-CGCA environmental work in which projected light will cast shadows. “The big picture comes later,” Allen concludes.