Michelle Marie-Letelier


©Andreas Maria Kahn

Visual artist / researcher b. 1977 Rancagua, Chile


Inspired by juxtaposed historical contexts, Letelier’s drawings, installations, videos and sculptures encompass orchestrated transformations of minerals alongside extensive research into the landscapes where their exploitation and speculation take place.
Michelle-Marie Letelier spent her early life in Chuquicamata, the world’s largest open-pit copper mine located in the Atacama Desert in Chile. When this town was to be buried due to new mining policies, Letelier returned to document this process—a pivotal moment that ushered in her practice.

Since then, Letelier has been exploring commodity compounds, their properties and energy productions, enabling situations in which the basic structures are carefully combined and led by physical methods into significant states or applied directly into her work.

Michelle-Marie Letelier obtained her Bachelor of Arts from the Universidad Católica de Chile in 2000 and has participated in postgraduate programmes such as Goldrausch Küsuch as Goldrausch Künstlerinnenprojekt art IT (Berlin) and as guest student in the Experimental Media Design studies at the Universität der Künste (Berlin).

Her work has been shown internationally in galleries, museums and institutions, among others: CNB Contemporánea (Buenos Aires); Monumento a Los Héroes (Bogotá); El Museo de Los Sures (New York); Stiftelsen 3,14 (Bergen); Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende (Santiago); Cini Foundation (Venice); Errant Bodies (Berlin); Museum of Contemporary Art (Santiago); Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda (Santiago), Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Santiago) and Kommunale Galerie Charlottenburg (Berlin).
Her videos have been exhibited in international screenings and festivals, including the Mercosur Biennial (Porto Alegre); East Asia Contemporary Art Space (Shanghai) and X Video and Media Arts Biennial (Santiago). Letelier has obtained grants from the National Council of Culture & Arts – Government of Chile, Goethe Institut, IFA-Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen and Berliner Senate, also awarded a first edition of ORA Prize (Italy).

She has been a resident at ISCP (New York, 2014), USF (Bergen, 2017), Kunstnerhuset (Svolvær, 2018) invited by the Nordnorsk Kunstnersenter; Magallanes2020 (Punta Arenas, 2018) and ISLA (Antofagasta, 2018).

She is currently undergoing a long-term project based on the ethical, poetic and scientific nuances around salmon aqua- and fishing culture in Norway, Chile and Canada.
Michelle would like to thank Cristina Moreno and Christoph Bartsch for the support in the Caliche Crystals Project.





Caliche Crystals is a video performance that enlarges a real-time view of the dynamic and symmetrical crystal growth of sodium nitrate under a microscope. It provides a reflection on the molecular geometry of this resource, from which its natural sedimentation in the Atacama Desert has been subject of scientific controversy: is not clear wether it has been formed by sea spray and oxidation, or as consequence of volcanic activity.

A video projection of a real-time microscopic performance will allow the public to experience an enlarged molecular process in the public space, where a myriad of symmetric compositions develop in a water drop.


There is a long and rich history that connects ocean motions, wind currents, scientists and Chile-saltpetre (sodium nitrate, or locally known as caliche). This nitrate has accumulated on the Atacama Desert probably since the Miocene, either through marine-fog precipitation and sea- spray oxidation, followed by gravitational settling in the hot-dry desert atmosphere, or as a consequence of volcanic activity in the early Andes. El Niño/La Niña extreme rain cycles probably also favoured nitrates accumulation through both aridity and water transportation.

Nitrate ores reserves have been exploited since 1809. Its transport through the greatest and last wind vessels, responded to the European farmer’s fertiliser of choice for its quickening effect upon cultivation, until the Haber Process was developed in Germany.

Saltpetre articulates nonlinear reactions to anthropogenic change and creates new landscapes and deserts, while plentiful harvests have been turned into barren waste, and effects upon the human body remain under-known.

Caliche Crystals is a project currently under development in collaboration with artist Cristina Moreno and lab:present from the Technische Universität Berlin. Together we have been observing the growth of saltpetre crystals through a microscope. The results of these experiments will be manifested in a video performance, conceiving an aesthetical position that would join the symmetry and abstraction of the crystals into a reflection towards the dynamic transformation of this non-renewable resource.

The microscope setting will project video in real time on an outdoor façade, in order to enlarge the image as much as possible, allowing a collective experience and activating the urban architecture.

Caliche Crystals is a performance that could complement an understanding on how this compound has influenced cultures, labor, landscapes, soil and probably our own bodies. At the same time, a real-time microscopic video-projection in a public space will be an chance to collectively observe the intimate growth of crystals. This performative installation aims to reflect upon how ocean trade forces take place in an imperceptible way for the increasingly urban human population, and therefore, foster a necessary thinking about our future protein requirements in order to achieve a sustainable survival.