Wall to wall

New Ringling Museum Installation Connects Viewers With the Earth and One Another

Ya Levy-La’ford's 'American/Rōōts' is part of a new exhibition at The Ringling.

By Emma Lichtenstein June 28, 2021

Ya Levy-La’ford with "American/Rōōts" at The Ringling.

Skyway 20/21, a new exhibition featuring work from eight artists, recently opened at The Ringling. One piece you can't miss is "American/Rōōts," an enormous room-sized installation by St. Petersburg's Ya Levy-La’ford. The artwork was heavily inspired by actual root patterns and systems.

“It's a full-fledged immersive installation with bold gold and black geometric patterns with two mirrored sculptures on the wall that reference systems of roots found in nature," says Levy-La’ford, whose background is both Jewish and Jamaican. "I adorned the entire museum walls and shaped chrome steel with complex and symbolic geometric patterns. I'm trying to communicate humanity’s unseen experiences within these geometric laid-in layers and unite through interconnecting lines.”

Levy-La’ford describes pulling inspiration from James Turrell, whose work, including his "Skyspace" at The Ringling, combines the use of light, space and experience. The idea of connecting with earth and the environment around you is present across the entire installation.

"American/Rōōts" is about making viewers feel something and perhaps change their outlook or engage in further self-reflection, says Levy-La’ford. The artist highly rates authenticity, and hopes to help viewers find their truest selves. “Instead of looking at artwork, the artwork takes you in, sweeps you off your feet, makes you have heightened senses,” says Levy-La’ford.

“It’s a beautiful thing to be able to build these facades that pay homage to where we can find patterns that are in the unconscious and make them visible,” says Levy-La’ford.

“My work is not about me. It's not about you. It's about the collective us," says Levy-La’ford. "How do we find a space that would epitomize this word ‘unity?’” To find an answer to that question, you’ll have to physically visit The Ringling. Levy-La’ford says the emotions of the art cannot be fully captured on a camera or a screen.

The artist also wants you to step further outside of yourself and connect not just with nature, but also with humanity as a whole. Playing with inspiration from ancient civilizations, particularly the Byzantine Empire, "American/Rōōts" seeks to bridge together different eras of humanity, from humble beginnings to our present state.

The longevity of relationships is also something Levy-La’ford highly values. For seven years, the artist has been mentoring and forming friendships with children. More than 150 students will eventually participate in "American/Rōōts" by planting a coconut tree on the museum grounds with Levy-La’ford.

Ya Levy-La’ford hopes that viewers of "American/Rōōts" leave “more connected to [their] inner purposes,” saying that too often humans are “so focused on what we're supposed to do that we lose focus on what's really important.” To see the art, and hopefully leave a more connected and aware person, visit The Ringling through Sunday, Sept. 26.

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