Ya La’Ford’s ‘Survey: The West’ exhibition seeks the soul of Utah’s landscapes
Artist Ya La’ford recently traveled throughout Utah and the surrounding states. The Florida- and Maine-based artist said it was a way to connect with space and sacred ground.
“What is the West? Is the West the cowboys riding into the sunset or sweeping plains of sagebrush and snow top mountains?” La’ford said of the questions she wanted to answer in her research.
“The answer to these questions were 'yes.' However, I believe that the stories of the West that really capture our imagination are often born in a lot of myths for those of us that are on the East Coast.”
So, she wanted to dive deeper into what makes up a region’s identity and bring that to life through her art.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Caroline Ballard: These preconceptions about the West — the cowboy on the horse, the big mountains. How did that all come to a head in this installation?
Ya La’ford: One of the greatest discoveries I think I had was the distinction and realization of human time versus geological time. Much of the Earth that we now occupy is a result of pressure and tension and these forces of hot and cold and those coexisting in the same place, [and] the power of water, this water traversing and carving nature. I think instead of us looking at our trials and tribulations, we can learn more from the pressure of the Earth and the beauty that has formed over millions of years.
CB: It's kind of a macro lens, right? I think even people who aren't artists — who are just traveling through the landscapes of Utah — can often feel that way, right, of being something small within this vast landscape.
YL: It's so true. I think being in the gateway to the West really nourishes your soul because you get to really see the distinctions of space and environment. As the mountains absorb you, you become as boundary-less as the space around you. What I did was I tried to release this authentic voice of this place, and how is it that then I can convey this to someone who has never seen this?
In 'Survey: the West,' I believe that I'm taking found colors. I'm taking silhouettes of the mountains. I'm taking pigmentation from the ground — this need to find this space that is undisturbed and to replicate the power of it. I think the West is almost treated like artwork. It's a place of artistic glory where there's very little development and humanity has decided to protect it. And I think that is the greatest message I got from this moment — that it stays with you.
CB: Do you feel like you uncovered the soul of this place and its authentic viewpoint in the last few months that you've been here?
YL: I believe so. I think when you're focusing on the environment and the consciousness of finding a soul of a space, what I had to do was really look at the artwork differently. So I really reflected on the space. I wanted to reveal the beauty of the world when it's naked and hope to renew our perspective of the West through reconsidering our relationship with landscape and how we redefine the boundaries drawn by early pioneers and reappropriating that clay and that stone and that dust in order to see the very brightest of humanity.