Maybe it’s because we just said goodbye to another year, or maybe it's because I spent the past two weeks gazing into the creases of my grandmother’s face as she tried to remember my name, but I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. Not in the half-assed New Year’s resolution way, where I’ll con myself into thinking I’m going to live life to the fullest, while simultaneously reaching for a bag of Cheetos and watching porn. I’m thinking more about the practical side—burial arrangements.
Let’s face it: graveyards are a bummer. And I’m not talking about all the dead mommies, daddies, and babies lying underground rotting—I’m speaking from a purely aesthetic standpoint. Most cemeteries are just a sea of boring gray, crumbly stone with a bit of marble thrown in here and there. At best there might be a statue of an angel crying or a cool spikey cross to mix it up, but generally speaking they’re not an exciting visual experience.
But why shouldn’t it be? When I die, I want my final resting place to be a monument to my own inflated sense of self-worth. And while some people have the fun coffin thing on lock, I think it’s time we paid more attention to what’s going on above ground. Thankfully there’s Funeral Concept.
This young French company specializes in what they call custom “iron graves” (they’re actually made out of steel). What makes Funeral Concept’s products so special isn’t just their durability, but that you can have any image custom printed, painted, and permanently emblazoned on your or your loved one’s grave for all eternity (or at least for the duration of their 30-year no-rust warranty). From pictures of your dad riding a motorcycle bursting through a wall of flames to you lying naked in bed with light beams shooting out of your boob, the only limit is your imagination (and their graphic designers’ Photoshop skills).
I recently got in touch with founder Freddy Pineau to talk about the idea behind Funeral Concept and to test the limits of how far one can actually customize their grave.
VICE: How did you come up with the idea for iron graves?
Freddy: It was a combination between the death of a loved one, being forced to pick a funerary monument from a gloomy selection, and the acquisition of a laser cutter at the metallurgy company I worked for that really pushed me to create my own painted steel models, which I then showed to professionals. The enthusiastic response to my models confirmed that there was a real void to be filled.
How’s business been so far?
We just started commercializing our products in September 2012. We’ve produced about 100 monuments during the first year and they’ve all been put up in graveyards. We don’t wholesale our products to showrooms. We only create unique pieces custom made for our clients.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from graveyard managers?
I’d say they’re quite surprised at first and then happy that we bring a bit of joy to a place that is in dire need of it.
Is there a project in particular that you are the most proud of?
The grave we made for Serge Danot, creator of Pollux and the Magic Roundabout. It really helped the company take off, because pictures of it circulated very rapidly across France.
Who’s in charge of creating your designs?
Our own designers, according to the preference of the family of the deceased.
Is there a classic model that is more popular than others?
All the models on our site are unique. We have a catalog of mostly industrially produced monuments. The “décalés” section is pretty funny too.
Yes, I particularly like the “thanks for not peeing on my grave” one. This makes me wonder, are there any restrictions? Let’s say a client wants a picture of themselves naked and spread eagle on their iron grave—would you do it?
We try not to refuse any special request, legally only city officials can judge whether the artwork is offensive, even if it’s on a gravestone.
What if somebody wants to put up a picture of their hero, but their hero happens to be Hitler or Pol Pot, would you do it?
When it comes to heroes, it’s very tricky because we need to obtain copyrights. For example, we created this Little Prince monument and fortunately, the Saint Exupéry family was extremely understanding toward the family of the deceased. Now when it comes to heroes such as the ones you mentioned, well, they’re only considered heroes by the deceased and we would obviously refuse this kind of work.
What would you say to people who think your creations are tacky and in poor taste?
You have the right not to like our products, but not to criticize them. Having a personalized iron grave that reflects the life of a loved one is first and foremost the decision of the families. So, as a matter of respect for the families, I’d tell those people who are clearly lacking in personality to think before they speak.