Mikula’s 6 degrees of separation


BLUE is more ache than color in Susan Mikula’s photographs. By allying herself with the setting sun, the artist uses a dim net of color to sift for fragments of emotion in photographs taken during ”civil twilight.”That’s an astronomical term for the time when the center of the sun is below the horizon – in morning or evening – but no more than six degrees below. This twilight delivers unsteady illumination that has been bent by the atmosphere. It can last half an hour or longer, depending on the season, and is a technical concern in civil aviation. It is the last chance a pilot not trained in instrument flight has to see his way down.

Mikula boned up on the terminology for the exhibit now stopping over at Patrick’s Art House / Gallery 120 in the Arts & Industry building at 221 Pine St. in Florence. The small but rewarding show was earlier seen at the Cummington Community House and in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Mikula’s photographic impulse is boldly instinctual and intuitive. She’s a believer in unpackaged, uncontextualized searches. Mikula shoots with an old Polaroid camera then moves from the negative it produces to a digital format. She does not crop her images to alter their composition. The views the Polaroid produces can seem all-inclusive, and yet Mikula’s chimerical quest is her own.

The 10 big squares on gallery owner Patrick Foley’s walls are both portals and mirrors.

The show, which runs through Friday, reveals twilight landscapes in California, Florida and Northampton. One contains a woman’s figure in underclothing. The subject holds her hands on her hips. The frame suggests a faint rocking.

A landscape taken in Santa Monica, Calif., shows how twilight has darkened what appear to be two gazebos. Baubles of glare from electric lights adorn the middle band of the image, with a glowing purple-red above. Mikula wants viewers to move toward the mystery in her images. Lack of definition, even when it pulses with color, frees the viewer to feel the twinkle of a response within.

In the image reproduced here, Mikula seems to catch the last of one day’s civil twilight in Santa Monica, along with luminescence of a Ferris wheel. The look is luscious and shadowy. The image lives through its lack of focus.

My favorite images in this show use only twilight – as does a series taken on the Florida resort island of North Captiva. Two show seaside scenes, in this refracted light, while a third reveals the look of the sky. It is emptied of content and stripped down to Mikula’s heroic twilight – an ebbing, mournful, ethereal and ultimately abstract blue-green.

Now that we’ve set our clocks back for the winter, we’ve pulled twilight up like a quilt on a frosty evening. Mikula’s photographs ride close like that.

”Civil Twilight” remains on view through Friday at Patrick’s Art House / Gallery 120 on the first floor of 221 Pine St., Florence. Use the center entrance. The space is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Thursdays until 6 p.m. 582-9934.