‘You Wouldn’t Do This To A Person': Why A Taxidermist Has Donated Her Body To Science

Julia deVille first heard about the practice of plastination when it was embroiled in international controversy. 

DeVille was reading an article in the paper 15 years ago about some companies using human bodies for scientific research they didn't have permission for.

"So I thought, if they are short on bodies I should probably give them mine," deVille told 10 daily.

When she dies, deVille's body will be transported to the Institute For Plastination In Heidelberg, Germany, which is a different institution to the one she read about in the paper, but the plastination process is all the same.

She simply filled out a form and consented to donate her whole body. Now, deVille carries a card in her wallet with instructions on what should happen to her body when she dies.

Julia deVille
When she dies, Julia's body will be taken to Germany and plasticised. Image: Supplied/ Julie deVille.

"I am an organ donor first, which I think is more important, and then I don't really care, to be honest, I am not actually that concerned what happens to my body when I die."

This attitude is grounded in deVille's belief that a person's spirit and body are separated in death. The experience of touching both her grandmother's bodies after she died confirmed this to her and made her comfortable to build her career as a taxidermist.

While she creates Victorian-inspired wedding and engagement rings, deVille also makes art with deceased animals and then embellishes them with her jewels. She said if she is able to work animals into art through taxidermy, she's willing to have something similar done to her body.

"I get a lot of people trolling on Instagram over my work, and even though these animals have died of natural causes, I get some quite intense and nasty comments," deVille said.

"I don't generally jump in, but every now and then someone is like, 'you won't do this to a person, you would think it is unacceptable to do this to a person’ and I say, 'well actually I have donated my body to plastination, so the same thing is going to happen to me.'"

DeVille's fascination with death started at a young age. Her mother often tells stories of her as a four-year-old child asking her friends if they wanted to be cremated or buried. Her mother's friends also recalls her asking many, detailed questions about death generally.

While this is typical of most children, it's something deVille never grew out of.

For this reason, most of deVille's friends and family are accepting of her decision to be plasticised. Everyone, except her mother.

"They are used to me doing eccentric things so it doesn't shock them, but the deal with mum is that if I was to die first, I wouldn't get sent to Germany. She doesn't really like the idea," deVille said.

Plastination became embroiled in controversy after questions were raised about the origins of bodies in some of the exhibitions. The most recent case of this occurred just last year when a group of activists called for the Real Bodies: The Exhibition to be closed down in Sydney. The group, which included doctors, lawyers and scientists, claimed the bodies may have been those of executed Chinese inmates, including political prisoners.

A different exhibition called Body World's Vital is run by the Institute For Plastination (the same group deVille has donated her body too) and hasn't attracted the same commentary. The Body World's Vital exhibition is on in Sydney until the end of March 2019.

Plastination Man
A man who has been plasticised and then exhibited. Image: Getty Images.

While deVille didn't comment on the possibility of bodies being used illegally, she said the taboo nature of donating her body to plastination was culturally constructed. She said reimagining modern culture's view of a person's death and an attachment to their body should be rethought.

"That is what my aspect is as an artist.  It is about death and trying to reframe it to a new perspective and understanding that it is an important part of life and that we need to accept it," deVille said.

"If you can, then you can appreciate your own mortality and appreciate the significance of all life and all living things ... I see it as more like a modern Carpe Diem,  just slightly different."

DeVille appeared on Studio 10 on Monday to discuss her discision in detail.

Featured Image: Supplied/Julia DeVille

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