By Una Cruickshank.
Jewellery designer and leatherworker Julia deVille is an artist whose life and work are thoroughly intertwined. Not one to shrink from the macabre, she expertly blends the beautiful and the gruesome, to produce work which is both lovely and unsettling. Her new show, Prey, combines religious themes with glimpses of the violence of the natural world, with bones, bird claws and fur featuring alongside crucifixes and Victorian-inspired garments.
Upon meeting her, it’s a little hard to believe that this gravely pretty young woman has been known to skin kittens. But there’s a lot that seems incongruous about deVille’s work at first glance – she’s a vegetarian and animal rights advocate who practices taxidermy, and a designer who uses the iconography of death to celebrate life. However, it soon becomes clear that there is a consistent philosophy at work.
Her work with bones and fur, she says, is motivated by her love of nature, particularly a desire to preserve animals after death “in a more creative way than what a museum would do”. By using mourning iconography in her extravagantly pretty jewellery, she aims to remind the wearer that life is both fleeting and precious.
This determination to face death without flinching extends far into deVille’s own life. She wears a delicate tattoo of a ‘memento mori’ skull on her thumb (“it’s the ultimate symbol of human mortality…you see it and you have to stop and remember that you’re so lucky to be alive”), and has willed her body to Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds exhibition, where she herself will be preserved and put on display someday. It will be a peculiarly fitting afterlife – but here’s hoping it’s a long way off.
Prey by Julia Deville
Eastern Market, 107 Grattan Street, Carlton.
July 16-August 10.