In Western culture, the topic of death is often avoided as something to fear. But for Elyse-Krista Mische, death has become a topic to embrace and explore.
A certified nursing assistant and hospice volunteer, Mische has focused on death in her job as well as her artwork. As a result, she's found that her art opens many conversations with people eager to share their experiences with death and dying. Mische is the artist in residence at the Prairie Ronde Residency in Vicksburg.
“I think I was six or seven years old when I read a National Geographic for Kids article about the extinction of dinosaurs,” Mische says. “That was kind of the first big Wow-Moment I had with death and mortality. As I grew up, I had that on the side burner. I didn’t think about it a lot. It was after college that I started to really get into my own art practice a lot more. Slowly, the idea of memories, death and life, death and afterlife, made their way into my art.”
Mische uses a range of media, creating performative art but also paintings, ceramics, textiles, metalworks, and illustrations. She also works with the elderly to create time capsules, helping them gather memories to pass on. Mische encourages conversations about death and dying with the elderly as well as their families and loved ones.
“I’ve actually really been delighted by the response,” she says. “At first, I was afraid of the fact that I made art about death and shy about it. But then the more that I did it, I realized that people want to talk about this sort of thing. I’ve been blessed with these wonderful stories that people open up to me about. I find that it’s something that people need more of, and they’re happy to have me take on the subject.”
A resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, Mische is an advocate of the Death Positive Movement. She shows her work both nationally and internationally, serves as an appointed member of the Appleton Public Art Committee, and creates art programming opportunities for the elderly in her community.
Mische formerly worked with the Wisconsin Department of Health at three Appleton-area nursing homes to create a multi-sensory creative life and death celebration. She's currently involved in a ThedaCare art program for older adults. Mische is also pursuing a Master of Science Degree in Thanatology (Death Studies). She's the current artist-in-residence at the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency in Vicksburg, where she hopes to gather more life stories from residents and create art inspired by them.
Listen to WMUK's Art Beat every Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.