TAMPA — In the vast array of visual art inspired by the pandemic, among the most profound is Ya La’ford’s exhibition, “Distance,” on view at Gallery 221 on Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus.
The gallery walls are painted black, an apt color for the references the show makes to space, in celestial, physical and psychological aspects.
La’ford’s hallmark geometric patterns, rendered in black paint, black diamond dust and black metal, are metaphors for tunnels through which we navigate the current climate.
She calls the geometric patterns a “coded language” that she uses to explore computational and mathematical ideas about measuring distance while also exploring the psychological aspects of social distancing.
“The theme was designed to find a new way of societal expectations, delving into a philosophical space of what is important to society,” La’ford said. “What brings relevance to our space that we inhabit right now? How are we treating the space we’re in from the distance we are from each other? How do we inhabit this new space?”
The mesmerizing patterns of repeated lines are also meant to reflect the repetition in our lives brought on by the pandemic. The circular patterns refer to the concept of infinity.
The works are titled with many references to outer space, which come from the notion of stargazing, shifting our viewpoints from the “space we’re in to the infinity beyond.”
The use of black on black in the works is elegant and creates an environment for contemplation and introspection. La’ford said this was the first time she had used that palette and chose black because it absorbs all the colors on the spectrum.
But her intention was also to bring light through the dark. This is achieved in several ways, by using glass and black diamond dust in the Space 2020-21 series of panels. An installation called Constellation includes a painted geometric pattern that encircles an illuminated metal wall sculpture where negative space is part of the art. Similarly, the sculpture Celestial Sphere casts intricate patterns on the floor.
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Magellanic Cloud is an homage to the galaxy on a black mirror, a fitting object as La’ford intends for “Distance” to be a “mirror of our human experience.”
“The ability to shine in this space, that’s where we can find a breakthrough and our contribution to humanity at this moment,” La’ford said.
Another series, Vibrationem 2020-21, is a surprising venture into jewelry, with La’ford’s patterns rendered in 14-karat gold pendants. They’re also layered with meaning; La’ford sees the pendants as symbols that connect us to “an ancestral journey and passage of time.”
She said it was her intention to create a vibration with the exhibition. She succeeded. The intimate gallery feels like shelter from the chaos outside, while the patterns pulse with energy.
La’ford’s purpose to evoke the emotion of the pandemic through her work recalls the abstract expressionists responding to World War II. The idea is to be present in the space where we all are, react to it and create a new mind-set, for ourselves and for the generations that come after us.
“I want there to be something sentimental and for you to be able to see yourself in there,” she said.
If you go
“Distance” is on view through Feb. 25 at Gallery 221 on Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus. The gallery is on the second floor of the Learning Resources Center/Library building (DLRC). A virtual opening reception featuring an artist talk happens on Jan. 28. Register to attend on the gallery’s website. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Thursday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday. 4001 W Tampa Bay Blvd., Tampa. 813-253-7674.