FSU alumni Ya Levy-La’ford (Art BS 2002), Eric Ondina (Art BFA 2013), and Amanda Sieradzki (Dance MFA 2017) are featured artists in The Ringling’s new exhibition, Skyway 20/21. The exhibition is a celebration of artistic practices in the Tampa Bay region and highlights the diversity of art being made in Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. Four regional art museums – the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the Tampa Museum of Art and the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum- are participating with exhibitions open throughout 2021.
Levy-La’ford created “American/Rōōts,” an enormous room-sized installation, for the exhibit. The artwork was heavily inspired by actual root patterns and systems. 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.
“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,” said 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, said 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”.
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.
Eric Ondina’s featured paintings draw from user-uploaded social media content, borrowed from videos and stills appropriated from areas of extreme political polarization. He selects his images by arranging the subjects within settings expressive of the American Condition. Through this process, he attempts to observe the American myth as it confronts global realities, illustrating a society and its discontents struggling to grasp a fate beyond control or imagination.
“It is an incredible honor to be included amongst such perceptive and insightful regional artists,” said Ondina. “I feel the Florida gulf coast captures a particularly graphic image of the wider American picture and the curator’s arrangement of these artists has created a moving yet poignant exhibition that speaks to this unique moment in time.”
Ondina’s approach to his medium is exacting; he creates his own paint emulsion from a viscous balsam, a fossilized hard resin, egg tempera, and water, all mutually insoluble ingredients. As a result, the paintings possess a vibrant quality reminiscent of stained glass. Although Ondina’s approach to craft may harken back to earlier traditions of paintings, his subject matter feels intensely contemporary and topical. The cropped images plot the oscillating rhythm of America’s collective subconscious, sometimes striking candid mundaneness while at other times capturing moments of decisive drama.
Amanda Sieradzki, dance faculty at the University of Tampa, and a feature writer for Creative Pinellas’ Arts Coast Journal, the Tallahassee Council on Culture & Arts, DIYdancer Magazine, & ArtsATL, collaborated with photographer and University of Tampa Assistant Professor of Art Jaime Aelavanthara on Blueprint/Redbloom for Skyway 20/21. Blueprint/Redbloom is a visual art and dance performance installation tied to Florida’s coastal environments and the spread of toxic algae blooms. As natives to southern coastal regions, the artists were driven to create a work that touches upon water issues and preservation. Their collaborative process engages movement, poetry and visual art to address recent national headlines on rising tides, ocean pollution and the increased threat and frequency of oxygen-deprived “dead water.”
Sieradzki and Aelavanthara developed a cyanotype fabric with ocean water, resulting in amber-colorations alluding to red tide and other toxic algae blooms to provoke thought around human impact on our oceans. The monochromatic process shifts focus from potentially colorful landscapes and figures to textures and forms as a means of capturing the bleakness of this environmental narrative. The static human form interacting with the cyanotype fabrics will then be incorporated and translated into a choreographic process with a dance performed alongside the installation emphasizing the human connection to these pressing issues.
“I am continually inspired by Jaime’s ability to capture the vulnerability of the human form inside the natural world in her cyanotypes and fine arts photography,” said Sieradzki. “Although we were originally scheduled to be part of Skyway 2020 (delayed due to COVID), it feels timely to be part of Skyway 2021 given the current red tide crisis on the Gulf coast and the overwhelming amounts of marine life that are dying as a result of negligent and harmful environmental policies. When I look at the work, I question what impressions and echoes we leave on the world. What exists in our shadows? What will be left once we are long gone?”
For more information, please visit the Ringling Museum’s Skyway Exhibit page here.