Annette Bukovinsky is an artist based in Sydney, Australia. Her practice explores the intricacies of humanity’s relationship with nature with the aim of searching for a new ecological philosophy that can address the challenges threatening the vitality of our planet. Her sculptural ceramic forms are often paired with ready-made forms or industrial surplus to investigate growing concerns about contemporary society’s impact on biodiversity and climate change.
As a finalist in numerous art prizes since 2014, Bukovinsky’s work has been exhibited in both commercial and regional galleries and has been acquired for several private collections. Upon completion of her Master of Fine Art at the National Art School Sydney in 2019, Bukovinsky is now one of the inspiring artists represented by Stanley Street Gallery in Darlinghurst, Sydney.
Much of my work employs the use of clay. It is a material that is known paradoxically for its strength and fragility. It bears witness to its own state of flux and given that a ‘state of flux’ reflects my ecological observations, I believe clay has many relatable characteristics that can potentially increase the dialogue regarding the current health of our natural environments.
By utilizing traditional hand-building techniques of coiling, pinching, and moulding, I am able to have a direct and protracted engagement with the clay enabling a more considered articulation of ideas and concepts. My interest in non-conventional surface applications, such as acrylic paint, shoe polish, bitumen and timber stains, feeds my desire to explore the nexus between tradition and innovation, and extend the link between structure, surface ,and concept.
Let’s talk about your journey as an artist. Did you grow up in a creative environment? When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I’ve been very fortunate to grow up in a creative environment where play was prioritized and experimentation was encouraged. As a child, I remember raiding the linen and laundry cupboards many times to create elaborate towel, sheet, and clothes peg structures in our backyard when the weather was favorable. And if it rained, I made countless mud pies ornately decorated with all manner of flowers and seedpods from our garden. My mum was very supportive of my ‘creations’ and I was lucky that she also taught me to knit and sew. These skills opened endless possibilities for designing and making crazy outfits, most of which were never worn, but the making was thoroughly gratifying. Expressing yourself in creative ways has always felt like an intrinsic part of who I am, so I think pursuing an artistic career was just a natural extension of these childhood experiences.
What is it about clay as a medium that attracts you?
Clay is such a tactile medium and I love how it honestly responds to the movements of your hands. It reacts to every pinch, every pull, every press and therefore, I think it not only records what you are doing, but also how you are feeling. I enjoy using the traditional hand-building techniques of coiling, pinching, and moulding because I can have a direct engagement with the clay. It allows me a protracted and considered articulation of my thoughts and emotions. I’m also attracted to clay because it is essentially a product of the earth and helps connect me both physically and conceptually to my ideas about the planet we live on. In fact, I think working with the medium of clay captures more of my thoughts and emotions than my words could adequately express!
Can you tell us a bit about the connection between your two-dimensional and three dimensional work?
Essentially, my practice centers on investigating the challenges threatening the vitality of our planet and I am open to expressing these concerns both two-dimensionally and three-dimensionally. My two-dimensional works are usually works on paper and include various mediums including charcoal, oil and acrylic paint, timber stains, and also more unconventional mediums such as bitumen and shoe polish. My three-dimensional works are predominantly made of fired clay with the inclusion of ready-made objects from time to time. Usually, a specific idea drives the medium choice but there is always a conceptual and thematic connection between both the sculptural work and the works on paper.
Your sculptures tend to combine elements of nature with man-made objects. Is this dichotomy intentional?
Yes its very intentional! It comes from my understanding that so much of the degradation and ecological instability we now see in nature is the result of humanity’s disconnect from it over several centuries. This dichotomous human/nature framework really interests me and many of my sculptures investigate this duality via the presentation of two material/manmade objects as a proxy for humanity and clay (essentially a product of the earth) as a representative for nature. I use the clay to make forms such as leaves, flowers, and seedpods as they offer a recognizable symbol of the natural world and I like to juxtapose these with manmade forms including those found in areas of high human activity, such as industrial sites and building sites. I enjoy revealing the tension between the manmade and the natural and hope that this tension will stimulate inquiry, provoke thought, and even challenge conventions. Given the rates of species decline we are now experiencing, I believe the urgency for understanding the impact of this dichotomy is of critical importance and I really hope my work may contribute to the dialogue around remediation.
What would you say is the central theme in your practice?
The central theme in my practice is really about trying to understand humanity’s complex relationship with nature. I’m very concerned that nature, across most of the globe, is now significantly compromised. Many scientists tell us that our ecosystems are in rapid decline and that bio-diversity loss is at a critical level. I find all of this incredibly troubling and these concerns provide much of the impetus for my practice. At times these concerns result in the production of works that may at first glance seem a little dystopian, but I am also interested in understanding the importance of positivity, hope, and balance within this central theme. I am encouraged by the confidence of some scientists that our natural environments can improve if we all make changes to our ‘business as usual’ ideologies. Making a better world is going to require determination and imagination and I guess this is where I see art playing an important role. Art can show us what positivity and hope look like. It can offer us an understanding of ourselves morally, emotionally, and intellectually and it can encourage us all to strive for balance.
Do you have anything coming up that you would like to tell us about?
I recently finished my MFA at the National Art School in Sydney and it was such a valuable experience. It allowed me to really dissect my practice and contextualize it via analytical research and a dissertation paper. It required a rigorous dedication to study, which was very rewarding, but I’m so glad it’s finished so that I can get on with making! Right now, I am absolutely cherishing the ‘hands-on’ part of my practice and I’ve been creating work for several group shows around Australia. I’m also super excited to be making work for my first solo show next year with Stanley Street Gallery in Sydney….can’t wait to share it!