Interview with Frances Bukovsky
Can you tell us about your practice?
I am a multidisciplinary artist who creates through lens based imagery, video editing, bookmaking, and graphic design. My work explores family, gender, and memory through an overarching relationship to personal health and the health of those around me. I consider myself to be a project based artist, so while I primarily work within lens based processes, I am always interested in learning new mediums to convey whatever idea I am working with.
Can you talk a bit about your background and where you’re from?
I was born and grew up in rural Upstate New York in a small town near a lake and many, many farms. My mother introduced me to art at a very young age and we would make books, drawings, paintings, and other crafts together when I was a child, and my great-aunt would let me play in her editing bay with video editing software. when I would visit her in New Jersey. My school had a small but extremely dedicated art program complete with a darkroom where I fell in love with photography and used self portraiture as a tool to navigate my own mental health challenges and ideas of self expression.
During college in 2016 I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome amongst other autoimmune diseases including types of arthritis and connective tissue disease. My mother had been diagnosed with autoimmune disease in 2011 so I had already been interested in the world of medicine and the experience of disability, so in response to my own diagnosis I subconsciously began photographing my family.
Photography as a medium has the advantage of immediacy and automation. How does this benefit or affect your practice?
The immediacy of digital photography in particular is essential for the way I enjoy self portraiture. Being able to obtain immediate feedback is crucial in how I go about making that type of work. Often times the act of self portraiture can be exhausting physically to me, so having the ability to review immediately is crucial to achieve what I need from the image in one shooting session. When I am documenting something like a hospital stay or an acute flare of symptoms, I have a very short window to make the work that I feel compelled to in those scenarios alongside a severely reduced physical capacity to create for anything more than a moment or two at a time.
A Family of Complicated Bodies, 2017, Port Salerno, FL
Waiting for Discharge (From Where the Red Flowers Bloom, 2020, Celebration, FL
How would you explain your processes whilst making? How do you go from idea to finished piece?
I work in a very diaristic way within my photographic practice, meaning I create a lot of images within my own life. It is a rare day when I don’t pick up the camera, even if it is just one image, and even if it is something no one will ever see. A large part of my process as an artist is curating the images that I create and reflecting on why I felt compelled to make an image to find the meaning within it.
Sketchbooks are also a large part of how a piece comes to life. Going back to being a project based artist, I tend to work in overarching themes, even if those themes change or overlap over time. By sketching and writing daily, I pool together many ideas and reflect on them as I am producing work and refining the final message. This allows ideas to shape my perspective as I am moving through my day and draws my attention to moments that convey the experience I am interested in capturing.
I work in a very non-linear fashion, often bouncing back and forth between the roles of photographer, curator, art director, and back again when producing my work.
Would you say you had a traditional or untraditional route into the arts?
I’ve had a fairly traditional route into the arts, however being self-employed may be untraditional by some standards. My mother had me drawing as soon as I could hold a crayon and creating was such a large part of my life growing up and through my teenage years I couldn’t imagine working in any other field. During and after school I jumped into freelance and was able to experience being a photographer for musicians, a studio E-commerce photographer, and a videographer/video editor for non-profits. I became very disabled in 2019 and had to leave my job as the social media manager for a craft brewery which is when I began investigating self publishing, selling prints, and taking on remote client work while going through treatment, though now with Covid-19 much of that is on pause for the moment. Though in the future I would like to experience working in a studio or team environment, self-employment allows me the accommodation I need at this moment physically.
The art world has felt inaccessible by many working-class individuals, not only in terms of trying to succeed within it, but also in regards to feeling welcome in galleries and museums. Was art a part of your environment when growing up, or was it something that you engaged with later in life?
My family never had an abundance of money, but education was incredibly important to my parents so we would take day trips to museums with picnic lunches a couple times a year. I also have a great-aunt who has always encouraged my interest in the arts. She would take me for visits to NYC in the summertime and introduced me to the Guggenheim and took me to the Met a few times. During a summer in college I lived in NYC for a few months and splurged for a day at the MoMa and the Whitney which were very rewarding experiences. Going to Ringling College gave me free admission to the Ringling Museum which includes an impressive Baroque and Middle Age European collection.
I really enjoy the hush of museums, they remind me of libraries, and being able to engage with art in a physical way has remained an important experience for me. I appreciate the amount of sacrifice and resourcefulness my family had in finding ways to integrate the arts into my life.
Alex and I, 2020, Port Salerno, FL
Isolation Haircut, 2020, Port Salerno, FL
What do you appreciate about the art world?
I appreciate the amount of innovation that comes out in the art world as well as its history. I see artists pushing the limits of technology, ideology, and culture which is incredibly exciting to see. Looking at artists like Neri Oxman who blends science and art into her work I get so incredibly inspired to see the potential of the artworld networking within these seemingly unrelated industries and leading to not only social change, but scientific innovation as well. As someone with a lot of broad interests it excites me to see potential to explore so many ideas.
Conversely, what frustrates you about it?
Lack of inclusivity has always been an issue in the art world. Female artists have forever been discredited denounced, and underpaid, doc artists have suffered the same and then some, LGBTQ artists follow that path as well, and disabled artists are just starting to have more of an art history than what has been celebrated in the past. Besides these individual artist prejudices that are a very real and serious problem, the art industry also excludes and separates itself very much from various media types. Why isn’t a video game considered an art form? I’ve had incredibly powerful and moving experiences through that form of media that have changed my perspective, challenged my ideas, etc-. all the same boxes we normally tick for items hung on a gallery wall. What makes the difference between a celebrated “art” film and a gorgeously produced larger budget film? I’ve seen motion design at concerts that have taken my breath away, experienced engaging user interfaces that add to whatever I am doing, so why do we close in on such a solid definition of art?
Binder and Walker (From Where the Red Flowers Bloom), 2020, Port Salerno, FL
Punctured Vessel (From Where the Red Flowers Bloom), 2020, Port Salerno, FL
What would you say has been your top experience in your art career?
Being able to photograph at the National Cathedral during my time as a media intern for Key Chorale was an incredible experience. Really the entire trip was just jam packed with moments of extreme excitement and reconnection to childhood. I accompanied the group during their tour to Washington D.C to perform at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for the 50th year of the festival. I remember getting my first ever press pass on the Washington Mall and feeling like I was a professional for the first time. Photographing the chorus during their Cirque des Voix performance with the circus act under the big top was a photography field day of interesting lights and moments, but the National Cathedral took my breath away. I grew up Catholic and have always been awed by the architecture of places of worship so being surrounded by choral music and splendid acoustics assaulted my senses with feelings of nostalgia alongside gratitude for the opportunity to document a trip that the group had worked very hard in order to take.
What is your dream project?
This is hard to answer because I have a few. Currently, my dream project is to see Where the Red Flowers Bloom, my work on my experiences with endometriosis, adenomyosis, and endometrial hyperplasia as a book and exhibition, as well as work on an educational publication alongside disease researchers that would help update general gynecological knowledge on endometriosis and in turn help patients make informed decisions about their care. This would ideally become a longer term project in which I document research efforts, specialists of the disease, and consenting patients in order to create awareness, provide education, and motivate funding to develop more accessible, effective treatment for patients.
Otherwise I would love to be involved in designing immersive concert experiences. Going to concerts always gives me such inspiration and stage design, both in physical layout as well as motion graphics interests me greatly. Having the opportunity to work alongside a musician, particularly in the EDM scene, to create the visuals for their set would be so incredibly fun.
What do you feel is integral to the work of an artist?
I think curiosity is incredibly important to an artist. Being able to ask questions, explore an idea to exhaustion, and be willing to always learn more is one way to begin to convey an experience fully. Curiosity also breeds persistence, so even when the finances aren’t there, the equipment is low budget, and no one is looking, the art is still being made, the artist figures out a way to DIY a piece of equipment or a new way of producing images, and they keep at it, not because someone is telling them to, but because they have to know more.
Weekly Methotrexate Injection (From A Family of Complicated Bodies), 2020, Port Salerno, FL
What’s the best piece of artistic advice you’ve been given?
This is really general life advice, but be flexible and never feel the need to box yourself in. Listening to the Collective Podcast hosted by Ash Thorp really knocked this one into my head and made me really enjoy making art again. I spent many years through highschool and college thinking if I was going to be an artist I needed to be one thing and dive into that completely and cut everything else out in order to be marketable, in order to get the dream career with the dream company, or in order to gain a following. Ironically I began to find more satisfaction and recognition when I stopped caring about labelling myself as one type of artist and began producing what I wanted to. Plus I found art making to be entirely more enjoyable, which in my opinion makes the work stronger because I am that much more invested in it. That is not to say if you focus on one media or art type that it is wrong, but I definitely fell into the trap of not trying things and not experimenting because I thought that no one would take me seriously if I showed all the things I am interested in.
What do you have planned for 2020? Has the current pandemic effected these plans at all?
Right now, I am continuing to work on Vessel, the book I have planned for release in September 2020 with Fifth Wheel press, and am just trying to go with the flow through the pandemic. My freelance work dropped off in March and April due to the pandemic so I definitely have felt the effects of Covid-19 alongside so many other freelance artists. I also was planning on visiting my hometown in New York to do a photography based project with family and communities up there, however that has been delayed due to the current state of things. Otherwise I’ve been taking the year to recover completely from the round of surgeries I went through last year and developing the projects that I shot alongside them more fully.
You can see more of Frances' work on her Instagram.