Holbein’s work is the most popular of the initial records of Danse Macabre, being created in the 1520’s and executed in 1538, though records of this conceptual expression reach back 100 years prior. Arnow borrows the format of Holbein’s work, framing the episode with a thin black border and captions to describe the nature of the drawing.
[From Holbein's woodcuts circa 1520's]
[From Arnow's Danse Macabre, 1989]
Arnow’s success lies within her ability to provide relatable satire for the viewer. The serious nature of the original woodcuts were inspired by the plague, but Arnow’s take on a different type of plague while holding true to the idea of death’s immediacy. The Commutation depicts a young woman during her commute, hanging onto a strap facing death, who is also hanging on so he doesn’t fall over. The arduous and repetitive nature of commuting back and forth while inhabiting a liminal public space is appealing to Arnow’s sense of modern community. Arnow takes a common issue such as movement and updates it from Holbein’s modes (which range from walking, to ship, to plowing a field).
Arnow’s work also divorces us from Holbein’s religious focus, driving us to recognize the plagues of popular culture, such as drunk driving. Though Arnow’s grim humor is certainly one of the most noticeable facets of her work, credit must be given to her consistent homage to foundational aspects of book arts and antiquated formatting. Other examples of this, and more works are available on her website.
Read more about this work here.