Collaboration Magnifies Creative Expression
Kiss Joy by Kimi Eisele
Kimi Eisele is like an amazon huntress, her quiver filled with words, movement, stories and images tracking the beauty and truths of planetary awareness. She delves deeply into the wilderness of rhetoric and penetrates the mask that clouds our vision of Gaia. A multidisciplinary artist with a master’s degree in geography, she is devoted to an ecology-based creative expression.
Eisele is among the growing movement of women who follow an eco-artist path. Her training as a geographer gives her a high regard for place and space. Her mastery of art disciplines provides the means to address matters of planetary degradation and industrial globalization. Her collaborative-based leadership allows the artist in her to direct others in expressing their artistry.
“I’ve always been interested in environmental issues, in part because I have a strong connection to plants, animals and landscapes,” explains Eisele. “When I moved to the southwest nearly 20 years ago, I was, like many creative people, taken by the quality of light here, as well as how incredibly diverse the Sonoran Desert is.”
A dancer, choreographer and writer, the artist investigated deep into the cultural community. Eisele is part of the Design Co*op, a collective of architects, designers and artists in residence at MOCA; a choreographer/performer with NEW ARTiculations Dance Theater; and co-founder of both Movement Salon and Action Down There, a collective of women artists.
Her passion for writing led to founding you are here: the journal of creative geography at the University of Arizona School of Geography and Development. Beginning in 1998, the annual journal explores the concept of place through articles, fiction, poetry, essays, maps, photographs and art.
“Some years ago, I stood with a saguaro cactus for an hour. As a dancer, I was trying to figure out how to make a duet with the cactus,” she says. Eisele described the germ of the idea that became “Standing with Saguaros”, a three-part performance piece that included women in evening gowns and saguaro cacti. “For all its majesty, the saguaro is a plant that does not want to be touched. So instead of wrapping my arms around the saguaro and leaning into it, I simply stood next to one. As the light shifted, bees turned to bats, nighthawks appeared, wind whispered through the spines. I swayed a little. So did the saguaro.”
Out of that moment came what Eisele calls “Alarm-Clock Art”, a sort of Zen lightning strike that lights up the core of awareness. “Standing with Saguaros” is a series of site-responsive activities and performances celebrating the saguaro cactus. Part theater, part podcast, part nature experience and total community celebration, “Standing with Saguaros” aims to engage the public in befriending, connecting with, learning from and caring about the iconic species.
A committed collaborator, she partnered with Borderlands Theater and Saguaro National Park West to create the human-saguaro performance. It is part of the National Endowment of the Arts “Imagine Your Parks” project, in honor of the National Park Services Centennial. Currently, Eisele is preparing Act Three of the engagement, to be presented before the year’s end.
“I’m drawn to the idea of resilience and resistance, in both human and non-human landscapes. How do we survive in a place of so few resources?” she asks rhetorically, then answers: “Well, we have to be creative and cooperative and efficient. That plays out in the desert every day. Creatures like hummingbirds and plants like saguaro cacti have a lot to teach us humans about how to live. Hummingbirds seek the sweetness of the cacti bloom and saguaros are steadfast, patient and extremely generous.”
The metaphor of the hummingbird and the cacti is theater, an artistic device. “Climate change is the single-most
important environmental, social and cultural threat that exists. It pretty much trumps all other ills. It baffles me that some communities still don’t utter that phrase, as if it’s some fictional monster,” she says. Art is Eisele’s means to shift awareness.
“I think art—both making it and witnessing it—can help us know what principles of cooperation, kindness, precaution and humility can feel like in our bodies, so that we can return to them,” Eisele enthuses. “The beauty of art is that it often invites us to come together—in a gallery, in a theater, on the street, in a kitchen, on a dance floor—in order to experience something at the same time. That can be kind of revolutionary.”
Strength, resilience and adaptability are key qualities of the wise woman warrior. “I started making paper-cuttings in 2011 after an injury left me unable to dance, hike or do yoga,” explains the artist. “One day during my healing period, I picked up an X-ACTO knife and created a cut-out of a woman’s back. I was struck by how satisfying it was to remove segments of paper to create an image. Later I realized what a welcome metaphor for life it was: how we can find simple beauty and joy by cutting away that which no longer serves us.”
“I see we need revolutionary reminders to help us navigate complex situations that will require revolutionary thinking. We are going to need to feel ourselves out of these predicaments—not necessarily think our way out of them,” Eisele says. “Artistic processes—whether you are writing a play or arranging flowers or making a pie or composing a photograph—help us do that. We stop, look and feel our way through things. Hopefully that process instills a sense of interconnectedness, or as the Buddhists say, inter-being.”
Dale Bruder is a freelance writer interested in creative people, social and cultural movements and applications of ancient esoteric knowledge. Connect at 520-331-1956 or