Healing through Ritual Actions: An Interview with artist Michelle Korte Leccia

by | July 10, 2013 | Articles, Interviews, Visual Artists


image: Wishing Well XIII (In the Womb) (c) Michelle Korte Leccia


Michelle Korte Leccia (michellekorteleccia.com) explores ritual actions and environmental issues, resulting in hybrid installations. Her art practice draws on collage, sculpture, video, and performance to create works that investigate processes of destruction and healing. She has exhibited her work in museums, galleries, and public spaces locally, nationally and abroad.Korte Leccia received a MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts and Media from Columbia College Chicago in 2013. She holds an MA in Art and Social Change from Naropa University and a BFA in Painting and Drawing from the Laguna College of Art and Design. She was born in 1977 in Brunssum, the Netherlands and currently resides in Evanston, Illinois.Michelle will be facilitating Wishing Wells: Ritual Art Experience at Life Force Arts Center Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 07:00pm – 10:00pm.

Pantheon:  You mention that you explore ritual actions and environmental issues in your art to create works that investigate processes of destruction and healing. Please tell us a little more about that. What is the relation of destruction and healing in life and in art? Let me just begin by stating that most of our acts are of creation and destruction, that these forces are constantly working in tandem within the cycles of life, death and re-birth. On both physical and spiritual levels. Creation is not always beneficial and destruction is not only a terrible thing. Landfills, for example, are created by over-production and waste, while the destructive nature of unhealthy relationships can ultimately promote change, growth and strength.

With my art I explore my own actions and those of our collective communities as processes that reflect the state of our inner lives. In the same way, that which we create is a reflection of ourselves. Basically how we feel about ourselves and each other is evident in our actions, the imagery we create, and our relationship with the ecosystems in which we live.

Pantheon: What type of ritual accompanies your artwork – what is the process? Do you do ritual before and/or during the creation of the art?

Oftentimes I create rituals to make artistic expressions of my intentions and concerns, my artmaking is ritualistic. Performative art especially allows me to move freely within spaces of art and ritual. Last summer I made a piece (R’tu: RedLabor) that began as a pile of dirt, a wheelbarrow, and a shovel. In working everyday with those materials I reached a deep understanding in my body about the history of humanity, labor and the earth. I added corn seeds, water, blood, a rake, my voice and body to address issues of immigration, agriculture, consumption, and menstruation. As I crafted my actions and sounds into patterns a ritual was created. In engaging that ritual I created a deep space of transformation for both myself and the audience.

Sometimes, as in the process of making Wishing Wells, I meditate on a specific person, place, event or concept. I concentrate an energy of love and light within myself and send it outwards as healing energy. As I make a collage of concentric circles, cutting and layering patterns of texture and shape, the meditation and prayer becomes a visual memory. A sacred object that continues to vibrate.

Pantheon: Art also reflects values: the artist makes choices of what to create based on his/her values of what is important to express to others. What are the values that you express in your art? What is your relation to the transformational power of your art, i.e., do you have a conscious intention for how your art will affect your audience or other beings?

I have been formally trained as an artist, many years of studying theory and technique. I have come to understand that there are ways to allow someone into a work of art without telling them what to feel or think. Yet in conveying my concerns about a political issue I need to craft an experience for my audience. I respond to art that works on emotional and symbolic levels, this is the kind of sensory art that I make. The power to transform begins with feeling. If I want to change or affect someone’s mind I begin with the body. Sound, movement, scent- tactile expressions for a felt experience.

In a recent project about consumption (The Soil Cellar) I spent a lot of time at a local landfill. At a nearby site I created a ritual and I videoed myself being buried in a hole, under a pile of dirt. For the gallery installation I projected the burial video on the floor and a video of the hole being dug onto a large wall. I played a field recording of birds and bulldozers from the landfill. Shelves of a wooden workbench were filled with jars of black compost, offerings to the audience in exchange for a personal possession.

In digging the hole for the burial, and even in driving to the site I was aware of the ramifications of my actions. I felt the presence of the invisible spirits at the site and offered some sage before digging each time. I wrote a lengthy passage about the community of trees and roots I was disturbing. I researched the history of the land, learning about the people and ecology of the place. As an artist and earth citizen I take account of what I give and of what I take. I do not always feel great about my choices yet I think people feel the sincerity of who I am and what I do. In that way I am effective.

People described being deeply moved by The Soil Cellar installation. While many of them found the ecological message in the work, some audience members spoke specifically about loss, war, grief, destruction, and the process of transformation.

Pantheon: Do you ever do actual healing for the viewers, the environment or spiritual beings in the course of doing your ritual art? If so, what is your definition of that healing?

In the above mentioned works, R’tu, The Soil Cellar, and The Wishing Wells Project I see my role as healer and artist. Sometimes the healing is a private ritual, sometimes it is performative. The burials of The Soil Cellar were offerings of my living body to a damaged soil/environment. The trading of organic compost in The Soil Cellar is a public ritual of exchange that works on both spiritual and practical levels. The healing in R’tu:RedLabor functioned on a metaphysical level. The blood and water were vehicles that reached into other realms, to ancestors, elements and animals, as a reconciliation.

As I move more confidently into my role as a healer, the art become profoundly ritualistic and my understanding of the way the healing works becomes more intuitive.

Pantheon: Please tell us about the workshop you are doing that is based in Wishing Wells. You mention that many traditions use the shape and symbolism of concentric circles in dance, chanting and image-making. Its power reminds us of the connection between the individual and community, our inner selves and outward projections, infinity, perfection, totality, and rebirth. You will invite participants to collaboratively create rituals of movement, sound and visuals based on the pattern of concentric circles. 

Oh Yes! I am very excited to gather and collaborate in the making of healing rounds of sound, movement, and color. We will tone ourselves from the inside out starting from a quiet place of stillness and breath, and move into a collective experience of ourselves as shape and sound. We will culminate the evening by making individual collages of concentric circles, an opportunity to focus the gyrations of energy while making a visual memory of the experience.


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