Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Ya La’ford Encodes Her Experience of the West in OCA Exhibition

Installation view of Survey: The West at Ogden Contemporary Arts, photo by Eden Buxton

At Ogden Contemporary Arts (OCA), which  just received the Utah Cultural Alliance’s 2022 Utah Exceptional Cultural Contribution Award, Survey: The West is an exhibit composed of Ya La’ford’s signature geometric design and ethnography. La’ford is an internationally recognized painter, installation artist, muralist, social practice artist and educator from New York City and, in May, was OCA’s first artist-in-residence. Her works are, according to her website, a desire to “recreate the connections of a space and the divine intervention paths that preserve our destinies as individuals and as a community” — but here with the added elements of the West and more specifically, Utah.

A walk through the exhibit greets you with something impactful at each corner, all laced with familiar La’ford linear designs and entrancing textural composition, but this time abundant in colors found here in Utah, visuals of Utah wildlife, and some work even created using materials found directly outside of OCA (see Scotti Hill’s article on the residency here).

The included neutrals and greens are of the essence when encompassing Utah’s diverse landscape, but also featured in many of La’ford’s pieces are shades of blue, some of which bring to mind the color of the sky behind the mountains. Others, like the bright blue light which shines behind one of the larger installations, make you feel like you’re looking into a deep lake.

Installation view of Survey: The West at Ogden Contemporary Arts, photo by Eden Buxton

Some pieces shimmer with metallic composition and reflect the light from the halls, while others are matte and embody the redrock that is so specific to this region. Shapes in the smaller-scale pieces open the door for interpretation with their scattered — but still collective — placement, reminiscent of birds and trees at first glance and utilizing a less vibrant variation of the consistent color scheme.

Without even touching the work, you can imagine the texture under your feet, due to the impossible-to-miss acknowledgment of the earth. As you leave, you feel as though you’ve been on a hike on the most beautiful trail you’ve ever trekked.

If a Utahn saw this installation anywhere else, it could very-well make them homesick. Each piece feels so uniquely Utah, that you are forced to see your surroundings through a new lens, which was seemingly part of La’ford’s goal. “Her art, she hopes, is a universal language that will connect the Utah community, inspiring us to renew our perspective of the West and reconsider our relationship to the boundaries shaped in the landscape through geological forces or defined by the early pioneers … ” the wall description reads, “ … The work embodies La’ford’s personal exploration of western land, culture, and history, emphasizing Ogden as the focal point and symbolic gateway to her experience — aligning with our city’s historic reputation as the ‘Gateway to the West.’”

Installation view of Survey: The West at Ogden Contemporary Arts, photo by Eden Buxton

Survey: The West, Ogden Contemporary Arts, Ogden, through July 24. 

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