The “Danse Macabre,” also called the Dance of Death, is a French term to describe a particular genre of allegorical art that deals with the ubiquity of death, an inevitability that unites us all. French-born artist Axelle Kieffer and her partner Jordan Fitch Mooney, whose two-person exhibition of the same name is on-view now at Sulfur Studios, discussed bringing the idea into contemporary times during this week’s episode of Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM.
“Danse Macabre is to remind living people that we’re all going to die,” Kieffer explained during our hour-long conversation, “So you have all of this middle age imagery presenting corpses dancing or corpses taking someone’s life away. This theme is so prolific, and it was used through all of the centuries. And every artist used this theme [to depict] the fear, the politics, the social situation that they lived in. It’s interesting to see the evolution from then to now.”Get Savannah art and culture news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and food newsletters
The artistic couple, whose last show at Sulfur Studios garnered praise as one of the “Art Shows of the Year” by Savannah Art Informer in 2015, approached the Starland gallery once again to exhibit the new works, “They [Sulfur Studios] really let you do whatever you want to do. There is no censoring and no constraints.” Kieffer explained.
Fitch Mooney agreed, “As long as you put [the gallery] back the way that it was, they’re pretty open to letting you experiment and play around in there.”
The exhibition, which combines Kieffer’s paintings and intricate collages with Fitch Mooney’s prints, has a conceptually bleak starting point, but is actually quite humorous as well. Noted Fitch Mooney, “Some of the things I have are a skeleton or death dancing and the movement of the skeleton is usually a reference to either a popular dance in a film or just a popular dance.” That doesn’t mean that you’ll see the skeletons twerking (although Fitch Mooney did experiment with just that early on), but observant viewers might spot some dance moves popularized in the 1990’s and 2000’s.
It might sound a little tongue-in-cheek on the surface, but, as Kieffer explained, they’re just responding to modern sensibilities, “The skeleton and the skull are totally in popular culture. They’re completely removed from any background and meaning. So we’re playing a little bit on how the figure of the skeleton is [depicted] nowadays. “
And that mainstream acceptance allowed the artists a lot of freedom, “I like the skeleton figure because it removes all of the gender. We don’t know if it’s male or female, [it’s] background, social, politics, it’s just a human being,” explained Kieffer, “So it’s just a question of who we are as human beings.”
The purpose of Danse Macabre is to “take the wind of the sails of death and show it in a different light.” concluded Fitch Mooney.
Listen to the entire interview with Axelle Kieffer and Jordan Fitch Mooney, embedded here.
Their exhibition “Danse Macabre” is on view at Sulfur Studios at 2301 Bull Street through October 5th, with a closing reception on October 4th from 6-9pm during First Fridays in Starland.
Tune in to “Art on the Air” every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM in Savannah, and streaming worldwide at www.wruu.org. Next week’s guest on the show will be Daniel Smith.
Art off the Air is a digital-only column that is posted every week on dosavannah.com as a companion piece to the WRUU 107.5 FM show “Art on the Air.”
Rob Hessler is an artist, host of the radio show Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah, and Executive Director of Bigger Pie, a Savannah-based arts advocacy organization.