Today we’d like to introduce you to Rachel Yurkovich.
Hi Rachel, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
It started off with getting a couple of awards in kindergarten for my expressive drawings – they said there was always movement in them. I never really had a different idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up, I just knew “an artist”. I liked to play with bugs and dolls. I’d build lady bugs little houses to crawl on and knit my Barbie dolls’ clothes. I made paper dolls for all of the characters in the Harry Potter books and more. In high school I would spend all my extra time in the art classroom, putting all my teenage angst into sculptures and paintings. I made art out of whatever material felt most symbolic to me, including chocolate, ashes, chicken bones, and paint.
My parents encouraged me to study something in college that would get me a career, like graphic design. But I didn’t want that – I dabbled with the idea of becoming an art therapist so I went to study Sculpture and Painting at the Cleveland Institute of Art. For some sculpture projects, I used living things such as plants. The first time-lapse I did was of a houseplant’ dying from the sunblock I put on their leaves, and a few weeks later erupting new clean leaves. My fascination with focusing on the action of things turned into my final projects being made up of videos of animals and insects’ actions. A hen eating her own egg, and fruit flies drowning in a glass of wine. I used scenes like these as allegories to talk about humans.
One of the few related job options you can get after art school is working in a gallery or a museum. So, I worked at the Cleveland Museum for Natural History for a while in Exhibits, and now am at the Cleveland Metroparks in IT. My daytime job has supported and also inspired my artwork, so I am thankful to be doing something that relates to my passion for the natural world. In the leftover time for my art practice, I have developed a few projects including a short film about Chernobyl, a video series about plastic pollution and roadkill, and a collection of collage poetry. I have had the opportunity to showcase this work in various galleries, most recently at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. I continue to make work at my studio and hope to grow my opportunities with more solo shows locally and nationally.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Though I have an American passport, I grew up in North Macedonia and Czechia; moving to Cleveland for college in 2010. Getting used to the different cultures here took a while – I still don’t get a lot of pop culture references. I didn’t know how to return a UPS package, tip bartenders correctly, or fake smile for my food service jobs. I got (and still get) a lot of reactions like, “I can’t believe you haven’t seen [insert TV show]”. I am however thankful for the different perspective my background gives me, helping me to relate with people of other cultures.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
My recent artwork uses found occurrences and materials, communicating in a poetic way the destructive nature of thoughtless human actions. I collect video documentation of scenes in the world where nature and human-made interrupt each other, going where they “aren’t supposed to”. These videos act more as live photos with subtle movements in still shots bringing focus to things most would look over such as plastic bags caught in trees, or roadkill on the street. I had been trying to think of a title for this video series and happened to need to go to urgent care one day to get help removing something from my body. After the procedure, I looked at my paperwork and it said, “Foreign Body in…”. I wasn’t familiar with this medical term but it very much fits the meaning I was going for in this project, so I titled the series Foreign Bodies.
In physical form, I combine cut-out words from magazines, books, and receipts to form collage poetry. This started more consistently during the lockdown in 2020 and was a cathartic way to express thoughts without having to choose words out of nowhere. The words brokenly express the frustration with our current dystopian-like time: what we are doing to nature and ourselves, the effects of the pandemic, as well as how digital media has absorbed and changed our culture. “Media” means an intermediate layer; an in-between substance through which our senses understand something. Instead of connecting, the digital form of this is dividing us from those we are closest to. A false connection replacing the natural. By bringing up these thoughts, the pieces in this collection challenge us to examine ourselves, hopefully thinking a bit more and having the occasional laugh.
A few years before this work I had the opportunity to receive a traveling scholarship to visit Chornobyl, Ukraine to film the wildlife that has taken over since the nuclear disaster in 1986. Chornobyl is a place I had always dreamt of visiting but hadn’t thought I would ever get the chance to go. I went to the area in a 30 km perimeter around the Chornobyl nuclear reactor where people are forbidden to enter without authorization and an escort due to the harmful levels of lingering radiation. When I was there, Spring was just beginning, and green was erupting from unexpected places. I was awed by the vegetation’s ability to break through buildings and pavement; it seemed as though no material could stop it. Thirty years without human influence turned a once-populated city into a wildlife sanctuary. The exclusion zone was strangely one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited because I had the impression that there was no chance of encountering another human besides the few I came with. The resulting 33-minute film Black Grass focuses on the wildlife that is thriving amongst the abandoned remnants in the Zone. This film combined with a collection of drawings of the featured wildlife is probably the project I am most proud of and had the opportunity to showcase the most.
Any big plans?
Next, I hope to find a gallery to show the work I’ve made in the last 3 years in a solo exhibition. I’ve been applying to various artist residencies to have the time to make new work, as well as other opportunities to show this new collection.
- My college work ranges from $30-$130
- Chernobyl Flora and Fauna Drawings – $290 (original), $40 (print)
- My video work is free to watch online.
- View my website shop – https://www.rachelyurkovich.com/shop
- Website: https://www.rachelyurkovich.com/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rachelyurkovich.art/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rachelyurkovich.art/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/rachelyurkovich
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/RachelYurkovich_Art