Leslie Peters: To Serve and Protect

Talismans by Leslie Peters

An interview with Leslie Peters

This is a very wonderful series. And I have wanted, yearned, for an interview with an artist – both brave enough, and in touch enough – who would speak more to the metaphysical expressed in one's art practice, for an artist to speak to the experience of being an artist healer. And finally....

KAREN MIRANDA AUGUSTINE: As artists, when we branch out from a genre we're best known in, there is usually some part of that medium we carry into our new stream of work. When I look at your video projects, they are quite ephemeral, lush in colour, and very sensation and sensory-based. Often they have had to do with the idea of "home," where you're from. Beyond these elements, what would you say is a connecting thread that you have brought into these new sculptural works?

LESLIE PETERS: My video work has always been rooted in the landscape, both natural and constructed, and often has flavours of "home" both in where I came from, where I grew up. For me the ideas of legacy, emotional patterns that are passed down through generations, and place have always been important. Whether it be natural landscapes or homes, places carry emotional memories, they carry a resonance of the events and emotional charges that unfolded in the specific location. All of these things inform my practice as an artist regardless of the medium. In talismans for the home, I use materials that I have some kind of history with — whether it's mine or someone elses — and combine these objects together, creating its own unique energetic pattern, which is ultimately infused with the emotional resonance I brought to them.

KMA: How did the idea of making these talismans come about?

LP: There really wasn't a process of thinking about the talismans. It began when I was visiting family in Cape Breton, where my familial roots are. On this trip, I began collecting lots of things: rocks, sticks, etc., and then my aunt gave me her mother's silver spoon collection. I had all these things that I felt were coming to me for some reason and was really enjoying spending time with them.

One night I stayed up all night by myself and began wrapping all of these objects together using twine and metal and felt like I had really found something, that I was making these things and it just felt so right. My sister likes to call this my "rapture" time as I was in quite a state for many months around this time frame. I was a bit "mad" for sure and felt so connected to the objects I found and collected, like they had so much in them, so many memories and symbologies that weren't exactly clear to me, but I was compelled to continue making them. I wasn't sure what they were, but they kept coming, and I felt very strong urges to make them for particular people in my life knowing that they would somehow help them in their personal journeys. So that's essentially how it started, from a real gut place and not at all from a thinking headspace.

Later on I gave it more thought and made the connections to my overall practice and to the ideas that objects carry emotional memories in the same ways that landscape had in my video practice. I did a lot of research to try to figure out what these things were, as it seemed like they were more than just a sculptural practice but more like sacred objects. I found references through shamanism and other spirtitual practices that made sense and things became clearer. I could see that they were talismans that essentially were to exist in people's homes, power objects, sacred items. I think also people's reactions to them when I gifted them were also very telling. Most people treated them as very special objects and put them on their altars or in special places in their homes. In some cases, I would direct them as to where they should be — beside the bed or wherever. Again, I just went on my gut with this information in the same way as I made them, feeling more like I was channeling something rather than really completely in charge of the creative process.

KMA: You made over 50 pieces for talismans for the home. What was your creative process like?

LP: Making the work for this show was a bit different. As I didn't make them for specific people, this made it a bit more difficult at times since focusing on an individual was really the way they mostly came to fruition. Instead, for this body of work, I focused on particular emotions, of how I felt in any given moment, and used that as my guide throughout the creation process, trusting that the owners would then find the talismans that they were most drawn to. And it seems to be the case. Everyone has their favourites in the exhibition and I can see the connections when they tell me. It gives me insight into the viewers as well as into the talismans.

Ultimately, I really enjoy making them custom for people, when I have a clear picture of that person in my mind and an idea of where that person is in his/her life, even when it's a stranger. I find that people will give me clues about what they want or need and I can use that as my entry point into the creation of their personal talisman.

KMA: What was "home" like for you growing up? What were some of the experiences you encountered that were significant enough to maintain its presence in this work?

LP: The idea that household items retain some kind of resonance or memory with the place they existed in is really what drew me in to this body of work. The household items, to me, hold the secrets that are not often revealed within a family. Much of my experience growing up was an erasure of the past. There was this fear in my family of acknowledging negative or traumatic experiences — a literal denial that certain events occurred or were actually even significant in the larger scheme of things. This always felt wrong to me. I see the past as a vehicle for the future, a looking back to reclaim, learn and grow into the present.

I think because I felt denied of truth, I looked towards the relics of the family for insight into this erased past. Physical objects have always held a lot of power for me, and familial relics in particular. I have been the one to hold on to these items and then pass them along to other family members after I have released the negative charge they contained. This is what I feel I do with the talismans: I refigure the components from being representations of trauma and release them and refigure them into tools for healing.

For me the relics represent a reclaiming of history in an energetic way. I may never know the details of what actually unfolded in the history of my family, before I arrived on the scene, but the items I work with represent that longing and desire to know and to heal, to break the cycle of denial, secrecy and shame that can span generations.

KMA: You mentioned shamanic and other spiritual references. Your tongs reminded me of African masks immediately; there was just something in the construction of them that took me there, even though there is no face or bodily form to those pieces. Celtic love spoons was another image that came to my mind, considering the use of cultlery as your works' base. What is always interesting is how many cultural and mystical references inadvertently click into place in ways that strengthen the dialogue in an artist's work without conscious intent of what one is channelling. What did you come to learn about your series that was not initially apparent to you during, or at the start of, its creation?

LP: It always is interesting when you work in an intuitive way to uncover what's actually going on beforehand. This has always been the way that I make work and its often frustrating to not know exactly how to articulate what it is you are doing until after the fact. As I was working on these pieces I made some interesting discoveries about the elemental forces and the symbology I was using through the materials. The tarot suits really became apparent to me in the work: forks representing the earth element; the suit of pentacles or disks, shells and spoons; water, the cup suit; knives were the swords, the elemental energy of air; and, the sticks and pokers were the wands, the fire element.

I am in a course right now that is heavily founded in elemental energies and I spend between six to eight weeks working with crystals and meditations that directly correspond to each of the elemental forces and their healing properties. At first I didn't make the connection with my artistic practice, but when I was working in the air element I found myself only wanting to work with knives. During this time, I also went for a tarot reading which was when the connection to the suits and the elemental forces became clearer. This was really insightful for me. I feel like now, looking at the talismans with more detachment, I can further interpret their meanings through the symbologies of the materials that I used and the meanings or resonances with the stones, colours, and animal representations. This insight is quite amazing to me as when I create it is truly through intuiting or, as you have described, channelling.

KMA: What has your journey been like as an emerging healer?

LP: When I read your question it made me sqeamish to take on the identity as a healer; it makes me question the place of the ego with healing or any health care practice. I think the idea of healer as an identity is a strange one in and of itself and that's where my uncomfortability lies. But this truth of healing as a gift for everyone, a birthright in fact, resonates much more clearly with me. My healing journey has been an ongoing one over the past 20 years. As a teenager I began seeing a "talk" therapist, as well as group/family and addictions counsellors, and have taken some training courses in psychodrama and psychodramatic bodywork. I worked with an amazing chiropactor and craniosacral therapist who walked me through some very difficult times in my life and taught me a lot about myself through working with my body and energy fields.

A few years ago, I began to really get into crystals. I just loved them and bought them and would gift them to people I knew and to random strangers on the streets. I felt compelled intuitively to give them to people and began to do more and more research on their metaphysical meanings. This was such a strong pull. I knew it was time to leave the life of arts admin so I signed up for this distance healing course called Crystal Resonance Therapy. I didn't think about it much, I just one day made the call and I was in. I really had no idea what I was getting into! At the same time I began seeing a gifted Reiki practioner. Working with both is where I really got down to the serious business of delving into core issues and finding the healing of past traumas.

In the winter I got my first degree in Reiki and began practising on anyone that would let me. I knew when I signed up for the Certified Reiki Training course I was interested in working as a healer, but having the first experience of working with a client solidified the deal. This was what I needed to do, it felt so right, I had indeed found my calling. Throughout this year, doing so much of my own healing work, I felt like I could really finally reconnect with a part of myself – the intuitive and knowing part.

Since I was a kid I always had a sense of what was going on under the surface of things. I suppose you could call it empathic, picking up on what others were feeling. I didn't really question it then 'cause it was just how it was. But you learn quickly that it's not something that is really supported in this society, that's not based on tangibility and facts. It often felt like a burden as feeling other people's feelings can be really unpleasant and really confusing, what's mine and what's theirs.

I feel like most people have this capability really and I question if I learned this as a way of survival, trying to anticipate and know what others were experiencing so I could "manage" the situation in some way. Hard to say, but I do know that this is really helpful for me in working as a healer. The process of being able to have detachment and to be able to discern what is mine and what is not is really liberating. Finding a way, through my healing practice, where this intuitive side of myself can fully exist while assisting others in their healing journey is amazing. It was a shocking experience to me when I first laid hands on someone in a healing context. One of the first things I thought was that this is such an honour and a privlege to work with someone so intimately on their personal journey.

I honestly am not sure if there is a place within the arts community for emerging healers, at least I haven't discovered it yet. A part of me stepped away from the arts as I shifted into this new path. For sure there are many artists that seem to be working in the healing arts that I am discovering, but I haven't quite yet found my place in this particular community. These things take time I suppose. I wouldn't say I have fully come out within the arts community as a healer either. Part of that is I still feel like I am finding my footing and the confidence to fully inhabit this new role. I think that visual arts and healing arts run parallel for me. With the talismans I am trying to find the intersection of the two, but so far it's a more internal process, like coming out as queer, there is a period of self-reflection. My practice as an artist is most often a solitary one, and healing is similar, although you work with clients.

KMA: After this show, where will people be able to find your talismans?

LP: The show has been extended to May 29th, so come and check it out. All of the works are for sale! I am also in the process of setting up an etsy shop where I will be selling talismans, power objects and healing tools as well as offering custom made works for individuals, their homes and sacred spaces. For now you can contact me at flintandfluff@gmail.com. My etsy shop will be up in the next month under the same name flintandfluff.

Leslie Peters' exhibition talismans for the home runs until May 29th at Fleishman Gallery in WonderWorks, 79A Harbord Street, Toronto.

Artlogger's note: There is a spot-on piece on coming out as a healer on the Empowered Soul blog. To those for whom that post will resonate, you can read it here.

All artwork is copyright of Leslie Peters and is published with the permission of the artist.

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