Vernissage at the Cemetery

March 17, 2018 by Carolyn Campbell

I was in Paris during November, 2016 and had the pleasure of meeting artist Milène Guermont at a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by expat and mutual friend Michael Kurcfeld, a producer of an ongoing series of video profiles of top fine-art photographers.  Milène spoke of her sculpture project, “CAUSSE” installed in Montparnasse Cemetery; and I shared with her my life-long passion for Père Lachaise. With the juxtaposition of our creative interests in burial monuments, I am happy that we have stayed in touch across 6,000 miles. May her work be an inspiration to those considering a memorial tomb.  It gives me great pleasure to share details of her recent artwork in Paris here on the City of Immortals blog.

Vernissage at the Cemetery

“In the history of the art of the burial tomb, it is today quite rare, if not almost impossible, to be able to express oneself artistically for a contemporary funerary artwork because the norms have come to constrain this ancestral expression. While we enjoy walking in our cemeteries, these new places are becoming boring. Except for “monuments to the memory of …” or commemorations of a famous person or a dramatic event, artists have deserted this direct reflection on death and one of the traditional rites, the burial.

Artist Milène Guermont

So what a pertinent opportunity presents itself to the artist Milène Guermont when an eminent scientist, a specialist in light, commissions a tombstone from her. The commissioning person being a native of the Causses, the ancient and eroded massifs that extend to the south and southwest of the Massif Central and its neighboring “lands”, it is with fiber-reinforced, ultra-high-performance concrete, one of her favorite materials, that the artist proposes the elevation of a landscape, a regeneration of Causses in twelve facets, composed of peaks, steep slopes, recesses and curious luminous underground rivers. A tomb is technically composed of three parts: the statue (upper level), the stone (the pedestal) and the sole (the base). For Causse, the artist succeeds in associating the stone with the statue so that it becomes one. The buffering of the black-tinted concrete, which gives it a slightly velvety zinc rendering, reinforces the identity of this powerful sculpture, which is placed on a white bush-hammered marble base, and accentuates the idea of ​​geological thrust. This telluric thrust, perhaps provoked by the penetration of these fiber-optic beams and poured into the concrete, pierces the flesh of this mountain and brings a twinkling to the shaded slopes. Causse is a work resulting from a cosmogonic reflection, a dialogue between photoelectricity, electrons and the sacred; nothing is easy to perceive and yet so palpable in this expression where the material made by man is rather synonymous with roughness and not finesse. So we must enter the Montparnasse Cemetery and abandon our reluctance to caress this physical elevation that is concentrated on the Land of Causses as elevated to the rank of sculpture.”

-Yves Sabourin
Independent Curator and Inspector of Artistic Creation Directorate of Artistic Creation – Ministry of Culture and Communication of France, 2017

Artist Milène Guermont with CAUSSE sculpture

When contemporary art and high technologies enter into the cemetery.

CAUSSE is an artwork commissioned by an eminent French scientist to Milène Guermont to be his ultimate tracking place on Earth.

Several authorizations were necessary to install this sculpture made of high performance concrete and light on the preservation area of the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

The silhouette of the sculpture evokes the mounts of the Causses – a group of limestone plateaux in south-western France – where the scientist (who is also art collector) is born.

CAUSSE is formed by 12 facets, representing the 12 floors of the photo-electric cell with multiplied electrons invented by the scientist. Thanks to optical fibres embedded into the concrete, light goes from one facet to another, like the electrons in the photo-electric cell. When a cloud, a bird or a visitor passes in front of an optical fibre, it darkens a point of light on another facet.

Perfectly vertical, the longer side of CAUSSE anchors it powerfully in the ground and defines an ascending strength. The obliques of the sculpture come from this mark. The global tension of the lines creates an infinite visual dynamics, a synthesis between nature and abstraction: a movement of elevation to which a spiritual interpretation can be given.

A passage from the Earth to the sky, games with light and triangles, an installation on a conservation area, innovations and exceptional authorizations, CAUSSE bears similarities to the monumental sculpture PHARES imagined at the same moment by Milène Guermont to create a dialogue with the obelisk on the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

2016 inaugural installation of CAUSSE in Montparnasse Cemetery.

On March 16, 2018, this artwork became the last resting place of its commissioner: an eminent scientist & an avid art collector. As he had requested, Milène Guermont relates on this occasion the birth of this sculpture in concrete & light installed on a classified site in Paris for eternity.

To learn more about the artist, visit her web site:




2 thoughts on “Vernissage at the Cemetery”

  1. I would love to see a video. Many people are probably upset with this ultramodern sculpture being among the older, traditional monuments . We should remember that people of many eras are residing here so although the stone is not traditional, it is representative of historical progression.
    That said, I don’t know if I would be happy with something so modern being placed in the Victorian Garden Cemetery where I am a volunteer.

    1. Dear JF, Thank you for visiting the City of Immortals web site and for your interest in Milène Guermont’s CAUSSE artwork in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. I contacted the artist and she explained that the approval for the piece at that site had to go through many authorizations. Having dealt with the many layers of the Parisian government myself, I consider Milène’s getting approval to be an admirable achievement. She added that CAUSSE received a warm welcome from the people in Paris; and the major newspaper, LE MONDE gave it favorable coverage.

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