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Susan Mikula
at George Lawson Gallery, Culver City, California
Preview by Daniella Walsh

Susan Mikula's hazy Polaroids of industrial and harbor sites evoke memories of faded glories.

Continuing through November 19, 2011

North American artists, compared to their Latin American and European counterparts have generally tended to shy away from highly political or personal art but when they did delve into politics and social history, few have been as spot-on as Susan Mikula is with her “American Vale,” “American Device” and now “American Bond” series of Polaroid photographs. These are compelling images of industrial sites and harbor cities slowly fading into obsolescence or already reduced to useless hulks.

“American Bond” is comprised of hazy, green tinted photographs such as “American Breakbulk” that depicts the cargo of container ships partially unloaded onto a dock. They are visually beautiful, even romantic yet also lugubrious, like an old warrior’s memories of past glories. Here “food for thought” has moved from critical cliché to something entirely apropos. Once those images implant themselves into viewers‘ visual memory, they are bound to remain there for some time, along with rumination on nearly everything that ails and still sustains society.   

Mikula has traveled through the ports of Long Beach and Galveston, Texas, as well as industrial sites in Louisiana and Massachusetts. Armed with a now obsolete Polaroid (SX-70 Alpha 1) camera, Mikula effectively captures images of buildings and their backgrounds on Polaroid film that she reportedly labored to unearth on the Web, in attics and garages.

Her choice of medium is uncannily apropos when immortalizing physical evidence of the United States’ industrial and manufacturing past and, by implication, the ramifications of obliterating the worker as our middle class backbone in danger of becoming as obsolete as abandoned factories.

Since the film is old, red and yellow hues have gradually faded away and when we do see them, they pop up in amorphous shapes. What prominently remains are various shades of green and dark outlines, which abstract and thus redefine them. While studying a photograph in its entirety, one will certainly note the more obvious shapes but, especially when politically attuned, ruminate on what the empty (in painting negative) spaces represent.

Looking at her body of work one might, albeit somewhat perversely, wonder what she might do with Three Mile Island or even Chernobyl after 1986, were it not still so impossibly dangerous. Instead one can only hope that Mikula will continue her travels and her record keeping for some time yet.

Even though Polaroid film is not archival, she has engaged modern technology to make her images last indefinitely. She “ pushes” her film into taking in more light by shooting in soft or out of focus. Several images are overlaid into the same frame and are also subjected to long exposure times. She then scans them into a computer and re-purposes them as (archival) pigment prints on paper, which she then mounts onto aluminum.

In the process, she may not be instrumental in saving decaying structures, but Mikula subtly yet unmistakably calls attention to a society slowly being destroyed by greed, corruption and worse yet, ineptitude.

Published courtesy of ArtSceneCal ©2011

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