Review: ‘Cineraria’ by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Richmond, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th July – 22nd August 2009


Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982) 'Ruby Heart Starling' 2008


Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Ruby Heart Starling
Starling, sterling silver, black rhodium & gold plate, rubies, antique frame
30 x 35 x 18cm



This is an itsy-bitsy show by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery in Richmond, Melbourne. Offering a menagerie of macabre stuffed animals and conceptual ideas the exhibition fails to coalesce into a satisfying vision. It features many ideas that are not fully investigated and incorporated into the corporeal body of the work.

We have, variously, The Funerary Urn/Cinerarium, The Ossuary, Skeletons, Black, Victorian Funerary Customs, Feathers, Taxidermy, Time, Eggs and Religion. We also have stuffed animals, cigar boxes, lace and silver, pelts and columns, jet necklaces and Victorian glass domes, glass eyes and ruby hearts to name but a few. The viewer is overwhelmed by ideas and materials.

When individual pieces excel the work is magical: the delicate and disturbing Stillborn Angel (2009, below) curled in a foetal position with appended sparrows wings is a knockout. The large suspended raven of Night’s Plutonian Shore (2009, above) effectively evinces the feeling of the shores of the underworld that the title, taken from an Edgar Allan Poe poem, reflects on.

Other pieces only half succeed. Piglet (2009, below) is a nice idea with its lace snout and beaded wings sitting on a bed of feathers awaiting judgement but somehow the elements don’t click into place. Further work are just one shot ideas that really lead nowhere. For example Cat Rug (2008, below) features black crystals in the mouth of a taxidermied cat that lies splayed on a plinth on the gallery floor. And, so … Silver Rook (2008, below) is a rook whose bones have been cast in silver, with another ruby heart, suspended in mid-air in the gallery space. Again an interesting idea that really doesn’t translate into any dialogue that is substantial or interesting.

Another problem with the work is the technical proficiency of some of the pieces. The cast silver front legs and ribs of The Anatomy of a Rabbit (2008, below) are of poor quality and detract from what should have been the delicacy of the skeletal bones of the work. The bronze lion cartouche on the egg shaped Lion Urn (2009) fails to fit the curved shape of the egg – it is just attached at the top most point and sits proud of the egg shape beneath. Surely someone with an eye for detail and a sense of context, perfection and pride in the work they make would know that the cartouche should have been made to fit the shape underneath.

Despite its fashionable position hovering between craft, jewellery and installation this is ‘art’ in need of a good reappraisal. My suggestion would be to take one idea, only one, and investigate it fully in a range of work that is thematically linked and beautifully made. Instead of multiplying the ideas and materials that are used, simplify the conceptual theme and at the same time layer the work so it has more complexity, so that it reveals itself over time. You only have to look at the work of Mari Funaki in the previous post or the simple but conceptually complex photographs of Matthias Koch in the German photography review to understand that LESS IS MORE!

There are positive signs here and I look forward to seeing the development of the artist over the next few years.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to Sophie Gannon Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982) 'Night's Plutonian Shore' 2009


Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Night’s Plutonian Shore
Tasmanian Forest Raven, black garnets, cotton, sterling silver, amethyst


Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982) 'L'enfant (Infant Funerary Urn)' 2009


Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
L’enfant (Infant Funerary Urn)
Ostrich egg, sterling silver, ostrich plumes and black garnet
35 x 12 x 12cm


Julia de Ville 'Cineraria' installation view at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

Julia de Ville 'Cineraria' installation view at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne


Julia deVille Cineraria installation views at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan


Julia de Ville. 'Piglet' 2009


Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Piglet, antique lace, pins and feathers
25 x 23 x 13cm


Julia de Ville. 'Cat Rug' 2008


Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Cat Rug
Cat, glitter and fibreglass
100 x 60 x 8cm


Julia de Ville. 'Sympathy' 2008


Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)


Julia de Ville. 'Silver Rook' 2008


Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Silver Rook
Sterling silver, rubies
30 x 25 x 35cm




n. pl. Cineraria
A place for keeping the ashes of a cremated body.

n. any of several horticultural varieties of a composite plant, Senecio hybridus, of the Canary Islands, having clusters of flowers with
white, blue, purple, red, or variegated rays.

Origin: 1590-1600; < NL, fem. of cinerarius ashen, equiv. to L ciner- (s. of cinis ashes) + -rius -ary; so named from ash-coloured down on leaves.

CINERARIA is a study of the ritual and sentiment behind funerary customs from various cultures and eras.


Notes on inspirations

The Funerary Urn/Cinerarium: Funerary Urns have been used since the times of the ancient Greeks and are still used today. After death, the body is cremated and the ashes are collected in the urn.

The Ossuary: An ossuary is a chest, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains. They are frequently used where burial space is scarce. A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary. The greatly reduced space taken up by an ossuary means that it is possible to store the remains of many more people in a single tomb than if the original coffins were left as is. This was a common practice in post plague Europe in the 14th-16th Centuries.

Skeletons: Human skeletons and sometimes non-human animal skeletons and skulls are often used as blunt images of death. The skull and crossbones (Death’s Head) motif has been used among Europeans as a symbol of piracy, poison and most commonly, human mortality.

Black: In the West, the colour used for death and mourning is black. Black is associated with the underworld and evil. Kali, the Hindu god of destruction, is depicted as black.

Victorian Funerary Customs:

  • A wreath of laurel, yew or boxwood tied with crape or black ribbons would be hung on the front door to alert passers by that a death had occurred
  • The use of flowers and candles helped to mask unpleasant odours in the room before embalming became common
  • White was a popular colour for the funeral of a child. White gloves, ostrich plumes and a white coffin were the standard

Feathers: In Egyptian culture a recently deceased persons soul had to be as light as a feather to pass the judgment of Ma’at. Ma’at (Maet, Mayet) is the Egyptian goddess of truth, justice and the underworld. She is often portrayed as wearing a feather, a symbol of truth, on her head. She passed judgment over the souls of the dead in the Judgment Hall of Osiris. She also weighted up the soul against a feather. The “Law of Ma’at” was the basis of civil laws in ancient Egypt. If it failed, the soul was sent into the underworld. Ma’at’s symbol, an ostrich feather, stands for order and truth.

Taxidermy: Taxidermy to me is a modern form of preservation, a way for life to continue on after death, in a symbolic visual form.

The Raven: In many cultures for thousands of years, the Raven has been seen symbol of death. This is largely due to the Raven feeding on carrion. Edgar Allan Poe has used this symbolism in his poem, “The Raven”.

Time: Less blunt symbols of death frequently allude to the passage of time and the fragility of life. Clocks, hourglasses, sundials, and other timepieces call to mind that time is passing. Similarly, a candle both marks the passage of time, and bears witness that it will eventually burn itself out. These sorts of symbols were often incorporated into vanitas paintings, a variety of early still life.

Eggs: The egg has been a symbol of the start of new life for over 2,500 years, dating back to the ancient Persians. I have chosen egg shapes and even one Ostrich egg to represent the cycle of life, the beginning and the end.

Religion: Religion has played a large part in many funerary customs and beliefs. I am particularly interested in the Memento Mori period of the 16th-18th centuries. In a Calvinistic Europe, when the plague was a not too distant memory, a constant preoccupation with death became a fashionable devotional trend.

Julia deVille


Julia de Ville. 'Stillborn Angel' 2009


Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Stillborn Angel
Stillborn puppy, sparrow wings and sterling silver
13 x 10 x 5cm


Julia de Ville. 'The Anatomy of a Rabbit' 2008


Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
The Anatomy of a Rabbit
Rabbit, sterling silver, rubies, glitter and mahogany
30 x 30 x 30cm


Julia de Ville 'Cineraria' installation views at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne


Julia deVille Cineraria installation view at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan



Sophie Gannon Gallery
2, Albert Street, Richmond, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 5pm

Sophie Gannon Gallery website


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4 Responses to “Review: ‘Cineraria’ by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Richmond, Melbourne”

  1. December 16, 2012 at 8:02 am

    First of all I want to say awesome blog! I had a quick question
    that I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your mind prior to writing. I have had difficulty clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out. I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips? Kudos!

    • 2 Dr Marcus Bunyan
      December 16, 2012 at 10:08 am

      i don’t think that is waster time – it is probably the most valuable time…. try and thing of it in this different way.
      the start is the most crucial. Usually I do all my research b4 I start writing, have a basic title and plan of what I am going to say but the start is the most difficult. If the piece has a title it flows logically from that. if not then a hook has to be imagined. this gets the reader in and is developed in the writing. i struggle with the start as well, but going away and coming back to it often does the trick

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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