Life is in the Blood

You may be alarmed to hear that Leslie Leong’s own plasma is taking top billing in her multi-media exhibit Blood-Letting: a Rite of Purification. Don’t worry, her blood is just the stand-in for her soul.

Leong’s show is now hanging at Gallery 22, in downtown Whitehorse. The exhibition, which has previously toured Yellowknife and several smaller NWT communities, consists of 25 three-by-four foot panels that combine newspaper clippings with Leong’s stunning photographs and lyrical text. Each panel, underlaid in paint mixed with Leong’s blood, broaches a universal human theme through highly personal stories and reflections.

One such panel is titled “Illumination.” The text meditates on the essential wonder and amazement that gives us hope in humanity. The photo is an uplifting shot of a beautiful mountain peak, yet the newspaper clippings tell stories of despair, of how this illumination is being clouded.

Another panel, called “Fine Balance,” ruminates on the delicate and constantly shifting balance that the world presents and how humans seek their own balance within this world. An accompanying photo featuring shifting sand attempts to capture this feeling.

Leong’s blood is indeed within in the panels. Unable to have it done at a hospital, and wisely unwilling to do it herself, she had two small vials of her blood drawn by the midwife who birthed her sons. The blood was incorporated into the paint.

More significantly, the blood symbolizes Leong’s spiritual, emotional and intellectual process of immersing herself in the often-horrifying facts of the world around us through the newspapers that report it.

“We read newspapers all the time, but to go into it in depth was another thing,” Leong explains. “I’m not the kind of person who can read newspapers every day because it’s too much. Getting that deeper sense for what was going on in the world was hard emotional work.”

Creating the panels was a three-part artistic process. Scanning the newspapers was a way of taking in the world around her. Collating the clippings into themes, writing the text and finding images was a process of trying to come to a very personal understanding of these events.

Finally, assembling and exhibiting the panels was a way of releasing it back to the world, not just for an audience, but for her own well-being.

“It’s not healthy to hold onto that,” Leong says. “For me, doing the exhibit was like purging it, like dealing with the world and coping with knowledge in some way.”

Leong’s themes have surfaced throughout human history, literature and religion.

Like many forms of spiritual questioning, Leong offers the audience not just her own reflections and experience, but also the opportunity to form and take up their own call to action.

“When we as humans, when we share things our intent is to affect another person,” Leong says. “So my hope is to help people to either continue to, or start to, question things. When we question, we can start to make change on a personal level first and then extend it out there to the world.”

To help her audience, the entire exhibition has been reproduced in the form of a small meditation book. For practical reasons, it is impossible to fully absorb the full 25 panels in one visit. The meditation book offers the opportunity to revisit the ideas, stories and images. As Leong says, “Take them home, contemplate them and keep them present in your life.”

Blood-Letting: A Rite of Purification is on exhibit in Whitehorse until Feb. 3 at Gallery 22, located upstairs in Triple J’s Music Café. The gallery is open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from noon until 4 p.m., 2013.

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