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Bucko's painting Mountain I was displayed at Tangled Arts + Disability in Toronto as part of the Outliers On Tour Exhibition in March 2019. Photo provided by the artist.

Bucko Art Machine: Collaboration in isolation, complex care and transcending physical disability in a global pandemic

By Maria-Helena Pacelli on December 1, 2020





Before the pandemic, Bucko (Chris Binkowski) was a busker. He would perform in public spaces or at events, creating audio-visual performances powered by his wheelchair. He also does large-scale geometric paintings, abstract yet deeply symbolic digital art, and has been active on a new project with other artists, under the name Bucko Art Machine. His latest work is a track on the Mood Ring Vol. 2 compilation, which was released on November 27 by Debaser.

Bucko while busking with red filter effect. Photo: Jose Palancios.

Bucko has been active not just as an artist, but as a strong voice for accessibility and public health in Ottawa. Since 2015 he’s been involved with Stop Gap Ottawa, and spends his summers volunteering on the Accessibility Team at Ottawa Bluesfest and CityFolk. In the early days of the pandemic, Bucko became vocal about the risks of the pandemic for those who are vulnerable and was active in raising awareness on the importance of following public health guidelines. As someone who lives with less than 10 per cent lung function, he’s well aware of the risks of COVID-19.

Although he’s moved away from acrylic painting in favour of digital media, poetry has crept into Bucko’s work through the titles of his works, along with collaborations like Bucko Art Machine, where he works with other artists. For Bucko, connection is the driving force behind creating art.

“Expressing emotions and words is a way for me to show I exist and hear back from others.”

“Expressing emotions and words is a way for me to show I exist and hear back from others,” he says. “I have found it difficult to do art projects that take me away from people. My highest points of acrylic painting were when I had many different assistants working with me on paintings. My digital paintings are fuelled by rushing to express a feeling or thought and then sharing it on social media. My music has greatly been about busking and live shows. The immediate interaction with people.”

But since the pandemic has shuttered many local spaces, as many artists have experienced, connection and collaboration is, at the very least, a different experience. As a person living with a complex care disability and using a ventilator to assist breathing, working on Bucko Art Machine has been a challenge. Without in-person jams and work sessions, and without busking, focus, energy, and momentum have all been stretched out through time and distance.

Bucko’s painting Mountain I was displayed at Tangled Arts + Disability in Toronto as part of the Outliers On Tour Exhibition in March 2019. Photo provided by the artist.

“I have barely seen people in general, aside from walking in my neighbourhood during the summer. So yes, I totally miss the vibe of busking for a few days in the same post and seeing the vibrant hustle of life. With the never-ending feeling of the pandemic, it does get hard to practice simply for myself. I like thinking about an audience being there when I practice.”

Bucko started going to Debaser shows at Pressed, which recently announced it was closing its doors, as well as Raw Sugar before its closure. There he met Rachel Weldon and Emily McQuarrie, who invited him to be part of a music community discussion panel. The Bucko Art Machine musicians came together through the local music scene as well, and started their work before the pandemic, but haven’t been able to get together since then.

“The project has turned into phone calls and sending tracks back and forth.”

“I can’t make music without being healthy and cared for.”

Bucko has a complex care disability, uses a powered wheelchair, and requires 24/7 care for all physical needs. The number of workers required as caregivers means exposure to all those workers, as well as all the people they come into contact with.

“As someone who is extremely vulnerable to COVID, it is really scary to not be able to isolate myself,” he says. He’s created a Patreon page to help support those care needs and additional PPE expenses as well as his artistic endeavours. You can support Bucko on Patreon, but also by doing your part to stop the spread of COVID-19 throughout the community.

“I can’t make music without being healthy and cared for.”

Bucko’s story, his words, and his artistic work really do bring home the importance of working together across distance to keep everyone and especially our most vulnerably friends and community members safe from the pandemic.

Bucko creates music, abstract paintings and digital art that transcend physical disability. Catch Bucko’s work, the first officially released track by Bucko Art Machine, “PRO TESTING (3am edit)” on Debaser’s Mood Ring Vol. 2 multi-artist complication, released on November 27. Support him on Patreon and find out more on his website and Instagram.