Post mortem
Ten creators rethink the funerary urn
Bettina Tschumi, July 13, 2009
Elisabeth Garouste, Bouquet noir, urne funéraire, 2008-2009, verre soufflé_Glassworks
Elisabeth Garouste, Bouquet noir, urne funéraire, 2008-2009, verre soufflé_Glassworks
Moreover the designer has placed his urns behind glass. The protective containers are themselves protected and placed in a display case, insulated under a layer of plexiglass, an arrangement with a floor of marble, the inevitable mortuary material par excellence: a way of indicating a deliberate distance between the outer world and the world, stiff and magnified, that is set behind glass? There is also a refined, delicate approach, as in the offerings of Marie Garnier, who proposes two urns, one intended for the ashes of the deceased, the other to hold memories of him or her – texts, photos, videos, sound documentation – in the guise of a USB key that can be consulted at any time. Or will an attempt be made to make the object last beyond the preservation of the ashes, once they have been scattered or deposited in a columbarium, as is the case with Jean-Baptiste Sibertin-Blanc, who lets light play on the coloured glass of his stylised urn in order symbolically to call back to life memories linked with the person who has vanished?

Alexis Georgacopoulos, vase-urne funéraire, 2007-2008, verre soufflé_Glassworks
Alexis Georgacopoulos, vase-urne funéraire, 2007-2008, verre soufflé_Glassworks
Alexis Georgacopoulos has devised a container, the two parts of which fit together in such a way that the more opaque part discreetly masks the vessel’s contents. The minimal design, whiteness and transparency evoking purity and light embody a smooth vision of the urn which, once emptied, may integrate perfectly well into a residential setting without imposing itself as such. Following a fairly similar concept, the urn by François Bauchet, a simple cylinder open at the top, seems to invite the ashes to scatter naturally in an environment to be defined. As for Elisabeth Garrouste, she has designed an urn with a sturdy appearance, simultaneously rather rough and imbued with mystery. What are these kinds of wood at the top which evoke a strong link with nature?

Marie Ducaté is the only one to propose a prototype orientated towards the death of an animal: an approach that nevertheless seems obvious when one thinks of the role of life companion that an animal can assume in the increasingly lonely sort of existence that people lead nowadays. Each approach is unique and is revealed as such by its formal appearance and its intention; but in the precise case of Post mortem. Ten creators rethink the funerary urn, the urns have in common that they are made of glass and that they were produced by Matteo Gonet.

Pierre Charpin, urnes funéraires, 2007-2008, verre soufflé_Glassworks
Pierre Charpin, urnes funéraires, 2007-2008, verre soufflé_Glassworks
Why glass?

Since its origin, and at least since Antiquity, glass has been formed into vases, glasses, containers of various kinds. There are three main reasons for this. First of all, blowing a ball of glass using a pipe produces an empty space within it. A hollow form grows out of the compact sphere – circular, ovoid or other – depending on the maker’s wishes or the shape of the mould inside which it is blown, or the form it is given by using tongs and shaping blocks. Its use thus results from this form: glass contains and encloses. Finally, this is a stabilised material, suitable for preserving while protecting, for example perishable or fragile foodstuffs. Everything therefore seems to have destined glass to be a favoured material, from the practical point of view, with which to make funerary urns, as moreover was attested among the Etruscans and Romans. However, the interest in the choice of glass goes beyond such pragmatic considerations. What does it really evoke, this “solidified liquid” – according to its chemical definition – which is neither solid nor liquid but fixed in an intermediate state, like a lava flow cooled to ambient temperature?

Because of its very specific properties, glass plays on a range of effects running from absolute transparency to mirror reflection (reflective glass) via all the intermediate stages of translucency, in other words an appearance in which glass can be partially seen through. Without being reflective, it may also be perfectly opaque and take on the look of enamelled ceramics or a lacquered surface. Thanks to this, therefore, it can evoke privacy and bring a certain secrecy to what it contains – all important properties in the context of conservation of the ashes of the deceased, especially when this takes place in the home.

It is interesting to observe that none of the prototypes presented in Post mortem makes use of transparent glass, which would reveal its contents without ambiguity. From this perspective, the boldest designs are made of material of varying degrees of translucency (see the prototypes by Hubert Crevoisier, François Bauchet, Marie Garnier and Jean-Baptiste Sibertin-Blanc). The ashes can thus be perceived without being blatantly obvious; here glass serves as a covering in the manner of a nimbus. All the other artists seem to have taken refuge in a more reassuring opacity. Elisabeth Garrouste, Marie Ducaté, Alexis Georgacopoulos and Pierre Charpin accentuate the formal and sculptural impact of their prototypes as though to counterbalance this bias. Whatever the options taken by the creators within the framework of this project, it becomes clear that glass can be adapted to the most diverse demands.

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