Michelle Korte Leccia

Interdisciplinary Artist & Educator

Red Labor stills

R’tu: Red Labor is a performance within an installation, a ritual within a sacred space. Much of the conceptual content in Rʼtu: Red Labor was inspired by the book “Blood, Bread and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World.” Author Judy Grahn sites that for millennia women have been separated from their tribe during periods of vaginal bleeding. It was believed that women were dangerous to themselves and others during this poignant passage of time. They were delegated the responsibility of keeping the chaos of the natural world at bay by secluding themselves in darkness, restricted from touching their own bodies or that of the Earth for days, months or even an entire year (as a menarche). At the moment of their return to the community, many of the cultures held feasts and celebrations for which the women were decorated with cosmetics, jewels and costumes. The tension and play of public and private space, internal and external worlds has been developed through centuries of menstrual ceremonies. Grahn attributes the evolution of calendars, agriculture, and writing, among many other facets of modern civilization to the influence of early menstrual rites. As I explored these ideas through movement, collage, writing and objects the relationship between blood, body, ritual, and civilization became the center of my artistic inquiry for this project. The sequencing of calculated, spontaneous, mysterious, and laborious acts was an exercise in containing both chaos and order.


The dirt in the installation was dry, rocky, and infertile. Groveling through it caused my legs and arms to become covered in scrapes and bruises. Each time I repeated this action of dragging my body through the heap, I thought of immigrants dangerously crossing dark desert stretches, risking their lives to live in a country where they are expected to perform hard labor, on their hands and knees, insuring convenient food and services for thousands of people. My pain became a physical reminder of the taxed and toiled bodies that strain in providing goods for mass consumption. My wounds also recalled the Earth Body, stripped, clear cut, and mined for the extraction of raw materials, that too quickly become the refuse of landfills and refineries. These are the devastating effects of patriarchal practices and paradigms on the body, mind and spirit. In the Work That Reconnects, activist Joanna Macy reminds us that, “The Earth is not our supply house or our sewer; it is our larger body.” Similarly, all of humankind is our flesh and blood. As I moved in circles around the dirt, shoveling, raking, and digging, my emotions surfaced. My blood, sweat and tears kept the connection of my animal nature to my contemplative consciousness . Doing this work was an investigation of my role as an artist, healing my own wounds as well as those of the Earth and my fellow Earth dwellers.