By Vincent Fournout
On the occasion of the launch of the PHARES book and the PHARESaonic evening, we met Milène Guermont, engineer and international artist. A delicate portrait in concrete …
Milène Guermont arrives at Parc Monceau after her Saturday jog. From afar we make out a thirty-something XS in soggy jogging wear. Close up, sitting in front of her Badoit on the terrace of a café in the middle of winter, it is the anchored body and the upright posture that we immediately notice: Milène Guermont is solid. An engineer by training, Milène is an international artist who juggles time zones while claiming her birth in Normandy … and the memory of visits to farmers with her veterinary mother when a cow would be calving.
This duality between technology and art, fragility and robustness, authenticity and decorum, emotion and pragmatism feeds her personality … and her work. Milène is above all someone who works. Math Sup, Math Spé, ENSIACET, Brown University (RI, USA), Nancy Mines and ENSAD (Decorative Arts), multiple prizes won internationally and three patents filed. Here again, the duality: Behind the well-armed curriculum vitae of the contest participant, her artistic destiny imposed itself on her when she was in her 20s by a simple caress of a wall. The synaesthetic emotion that grabs her then projects her to an imaginary seashore.
The invisible border
This research on the boundary between a caressing hand and an intangible feeling will first pass through a unique work with material that is compact and often perceived as coarse: concrete. This concrete that covers our cities, she metamorphoses it through technological innovations and prowess with her team of industrial partners such as Vicat Concretes who have been her faithful supporters over the years, seeing in her a mouthpiece inspired by know-how that is not well-known, sometimes even despised. From 2007 with BARREL, a barrel of concrete to be touched and to make sing with one’s fingers …
… up to the astonishingly sensual MINI AGUA, presented at the French Pavilion of the International Exhibition of 2017 that was in Astana (Kazakhstan)….
… and through to CAUSSE, where Milène tackles the challenge of a funerary monument with boldness for a private client who has a perpetual concession at the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. To meet the wishes of this eminent scientist, she creates a multi-faceted sculpture like the plateaus of the Causses, exactly twelve, like the twelve levels of the cell with multiplied electrons invented by her client. Like the latter, the facets of CAUSSE are traversed by light, in this case optical fibers injected into the heart of the concrete …
She is one of those very rare artists who can place herself into the global medium of complex technologies and put them at the service of art and collective emotion, as with the installation PHARES, a monumental work of metal and light. This “beacon of headlights”, installed for 6 months on the Place de la Concorde near the oldest monument of Paris (the Obelisk of Luxor, commissioned by Ramesses II), interacts with the public and flickers at the rhythm of the heartbeats of passers-by. Moreover, after the attacks of Novemeber 2015, the work stays dark for several days and is then re-lit to dialogue visually with the Obelisk, the Montparnasse Tower … and the Eiffel Tower to symbolically make the heart beat again … this time, Paris’ heart. This work (whose creation has become the subject of a fine book) will soon travel and present itself internationally in an ambitious, intercontinental program, ever more innovative and still strictly secret!
There again is Milène’s duality, and more generally that of these technological artists who handle complex things. If she likes to talk about the hundreds of men needed to make the work, the tons of materials used, the kilograms of administrative procedures and the necessary social convolutions that she knows how to achieve, it is by evoking the emotions of spectators that we will feel her own emotion emerge. And we will then return to her homeland with the work INSTANTS. Placed on Utah Beach in memory of the American soldiers, this installation inscribes into concrete the handprints of the last veterans. An emotion at the intersection of intimacy and history that transcends the work that is exposed to the winds of Milène’s native Channel.