Julia deVille is showing her new exhibition at the same gallery she showed ‘Cineraria‘ this time last year [see my review last year]. The new exhibition is titled ‘Night’s Plutonian Shore‘; and it also features collaborations with jeweller William Griffiths and artist Aly Aitken.
I find I can be affected by reading other reviews and media before seeing or writing about an exhibition, such that my reaction can sometimes be unconsciously formed a little by what I read. I counter this by usually not reading anything before seeing the show and writing my initial response, to be sure I understand my own opinion, and then find it really interesting how that can change with further reading etc. So, I’ll write my initial response before doing any research into the exhibition, and then write more after doing some more reading.
This year I seemed more adversely affected by the taxidermy … last year I expected to be repulsed but found myself feeling great sensitivity, and I am sad I did not have that feeling this time; I did not experience a positive emotional response. I found it much more oppressive than I expected, or previously experienced, to be in a room of taxidermied animals. Actually, my initial feeling was a strong one of wanting to leave the room immediately, which I found quite unsettling.
There are fewer pieces here than in the previous exhibition (past exhibitions inform viewers’ experience of new exhibitions, for better or worse). I thought later that a white room, with square-edged white plinths (only one ornate column plinth and a strangely out-of-place wooden stool), is perhaps not the most atmospheric exhibition design for pieces that lend themselves to something much more dramatic (richly coloured walls maybe?).
The gallery website has excellent photographs of most pieces – a piglet, two kittens, two fawns, a goose, a chicken, an ostrich, two crows and a pigeon (though I think there were three fawns and two chickens in the show).
The piglet (above) and one of the fawns (below) were scattered with what looked like miniature lilies (silver and gold respectively) – for me, referencing the dead. Another motif were the saddles (on the kitten, ostrich, fawn and crow) and beading reminiscent of Elizabethan hair ornament (like the work on the kitten’s ears and piglets back above).
Without further reading (I don’t remember seeing an artist statement at the gallery) I did not understand the connection between the pieces. So, on to further research…
My initial response above led me to many questions, so I did a bit of reading and the writing below is following further research to put the show into some context. A few of the little points first:
- while I understood the title referred to Pluto, I couldn’t remember what he was god of; he is Roman god of the Underworld and it is considered that ‘Night’s Plutonian Shore‘ in Edgar Allen Poe’s poem ‘The Raven‘ refers to Hell [wiki]
- some of the names of the pieces are directly from ‘The Raven‘: Lenore (the narrator’s lover), Nevermore (the crow’s only response to all questions)
- without having read ‘The Raven’ before (though I am interested now), I looked further at the names of the other pieces: Orcus is the punishing embodiment of the Roman god of the underworld; Charon is the Greek ferryman of the dead; Psychopomp is a Greek word for those spirits that guide the dead to the afterlife … yes, seeing the pattern!
- I thought lilies were for death (not sure why?); however upon more reading, lilies are connected to the Virgin Mary and Eve (Lily of the Valley), as well as the Roman goddess Juno (mother of Hercules)
At this stage I was ready to read other people’s writing about this exhibition. The article from ‘The Age‘ confirms the connection to ‘The Raven’ (yes, I could have saved myself some time if I’d read this first!). The article states that Julia does her own taxidermy, but later says that she had “commissioned several cats from another taxidermist” – this is confusing and leaves me to wonder the balance of artist-hand versus outsourced work (I have previously met a professional taxidermist who said they did work for Julia).
Julia is quoted in this article as saying taxidermy is “really fashionable now” … I happened to visit the exhibition with a lady of excellent goth pedigree, who is also a fan of steam-punk, and it was clear to me that the popularity of post-goth-steam-punk-victoriana may be contributing to the craft/genre’s surge in popularity?
Others have written about the exhibition. Pre-opening media: broadsheet, makersofmelbourne, and many others with a little background information. Blog-wise, the three after-visit posts (many others were pre-show) I found were all positive: Douglas & Hope thought it was incredible, Frances Rose calls it a must-see; and Marcus at Art Blart writes a more substantial, well-considered and thoughtful post (as usual!) and had many good things to say (and saw hearts where I saw lilies, so I wonder what they were?).
After reading more and doing my own research, I have a deeper appreciation of how the pieces connect together. I would have liked to know more of this as I viewed the work – it was not on the works-list, but I do not know if a statement was available at the desk. This also refines my theory of not reading much before a show – it’s more about not reading opinion pieces, but reading back story is of course helpful, as knowledge of the intent always adds more to the experience. Though I still do wonder if the impact of the work would be enhanced by a more dramatic exhibition design or wall colour…
Julia deVille ‘Night’s Plutonian Shore‘ is at Sophie Gannon Gallery until 21st August 2010.