Claudia Comte has her finger on the pulse of contemporary culture and visualizes it beat on impeccably youthful, inclusive, and digitally innovative work. Her oeuvre is a suspension bridge connecting the natural world of yesteryear and the stimulating and fantastical technologic present. Her sculptures are of natural materials, most prominently wood carved by chainsaw, to render works shockingly smooth and delicate in texture, an intriguing play at the expectation of the materials and the possibilities.
With inspiration rooted in environment, she allows her work to use technology to mine natural phenomena in an artistic way. Referring back to the natural world to see how far we have come, Comte’s work is playful, intellectual and optimistic about the strange and beautiful future ahead.
Comte is Swiss and was raised in the countryside, where her rooted passion for the environment is well suited to her nation’s rich heritage of landscape artists. Comte’s true magic may lay, however, in an aspect of her character that came with adult life in Berlin; her thriving social life. Comte’s work is often highly social, using big installation spaces for viewers to move about and often encouraging viewers to touch the works. Often there is a seriousness around environmentalism that Comte seems to reject. She enables her work to be inclusive and engaging, social and approachable. She invites the viewer to be independent in their exploration of the work and encourages viewers to think critically. She is concerned with the lack of independent thinking in modern society, generations that worship television and gorge over processed media. She seeks to remind viewers of the fun and the enjoyment of being in the moment, being observant and thoughtful of the surroundings, and how only presence creates an experience. Before arriving to her art practice, she studied child educational pedagogy, and this may explain her compassionate and imaginative desire to teach viewers overtly and explicitly, and how she is so easily in tune with youth culture.
She just might be educating us all on how to view the hi-tech future curiously and optimistically while holding close the natural world from which we are still very much a part of.
Comte’s work speaks for itself and tells a different story to everyone. What is more, even her earliest works embedded this idea of engaging with viewers uniquely. In Tornado Kit, 2014, Comte transformed an ice rink in Gstaad, Switzerland into a giant interactive a board game, a simple Swiss game that loosely translates to “move fast, but slowly”. Complete with larger than life pawns modelled after her abstract wooden sculptures and carved of polystyrene, or “Styrofoam”. Her paintings were installed under the ice, showing simple shapes and colors that match what the players roll. Comte often enables a democratic accessibility of interaction in her work, and this is seen vibrant in Tornado Kit, 2014 as the spectrum of players ranged from professional hockey players to local children. Furthering the democracy of her art, the installation NOW I WON, 2017 for Art Basel was stripped of any of the fair’s classic VIP perks or privileges, as a playful carnival with a universal ticket price of a three-franc donation to the Swiss environmental organization Pro Natura. For the exhibition Comte hand carved seven wooden booths, hosting drinking games, arm-wrestling, dance-offs, bowling games, mini-golf, ball-tosses, and darts—using her circular abstract paintings for the targets, and her smallest sculptures to date acting as bowling pins. If it couldn’t get more accessible, the grand prize winners walked away with Comte sculptures made in Carrera marble and valuing between €22,000 [$28,000] and €36,000 [$46,000].
In Curves and Zig Zags, 2017 for Desert X, Comte puts a light hearted interactive spin on the geometric tradition of modern art. Exhibited under the clear sunshine of Palm Springs, California, Curves and Zig Zags, 2017 is a massive free standing structure, tall, thin, and wavy, superimposed with a moiré graphic, a sharp angular geometric composition that gradually morphs into more organic waves. We see these waves and moirés throughout Comte’s work, and not only are they wildly photogenic, the practice is very thoughtful. The waves are organic departures from the stringent shapes of predecessor artists. They are made using technology that is a departure from painterly materials available previously. The works are often superimposed straight onto the wall, rendering immersive experiences very intentionally departing from the experience of the white cube. Morphing Scallops, 2019 filled Gladstone Gallery, NYC with these geometric waves over walls of gradient rainbow. Of the Morphing Scallops, 2019, Gladstone Gallery, NYC in an interview with Office Magazine, Comte explains “I love the idea of using something we know exists but cannot see—like a sound wave. my work is always already incorporating nature’s scientific tools. It intrigues me to make naturally occurring shapes and patterns more visible, more evident”.
Comte’s sculptural work and her installations have only grown more impactful and cohesive. In Copenhagen’s largest hall, Comte exhibited the impeccably gorgeous immersive installation I Have Grown Taller from Standing with Trees, 2019. The carpet is a digitally printed monochrome grid, with rows of 45 six-meter high debarked spruce trees, with some fallen in a pile. In the center of this pale and peaceful forest in a three-meter tall glazed ceramic sculpture. This work in many ways returns to Comte’s roots, of her first and foremost muse, the woods near her childhood home. Comte is often pointing towards the history and function of industrial production and its effect on the environment. The stark bareness of the trees makes them appear struck but some external force, suspended in an entropic state, age apparent in their rings but their futures uncertain as ever. The carpet’s grid adds a sense of natural order, expressing the network of roots and fungi under trees that has been scientifically proven as a way of communicating between trees and sharing nutrients. Yet, under the fallen trees the graphic is concaved and distorted, underlying the off balance of the unseen environment especially. The trees here, however, were sustainably sourced replanted at a ratio of 2:1. Comte invited the audience to touch and mark the trees, creating an intimate moment with the materiality of wood, using her art to create critical engagement on the serious topic.
Last year, Comte partnered with TBA21–Academy, an interdisciplinary arts and science organization, to create an underwater sculpture at Jamaica’s East Portland Fish Sanctuary. Comte’s Underwater Cacti, 2019 emerged from the seafloor unexpectedly. While she worked with ecologically sourced wood endemic to Jamaica for sculptures, she wanted to giveback to the local community and contributed a permanent underwater sculpture, hoping to encourage ecotourism and coral growth. It was the organization’s first underwater installation, and Comte had access to a wide array of experts who provided insight, specifically on water currents and using reinforced concrete, on which coral is known to grow well. The choice of a cacti is also a specific one, as a plant that is synonymous with withstanding dry arid environments, being suddenly placed in a habitat of marine life was shocking, strangely sentimental, yet also futuristic. It hints at adaptation of the natural world and is an optimistic look at what strange possibilities the future could hold. In dialogue with the Underwater Cacti, 2019, her Jamaican wood sculptures are inspired by the shapes of sea sponges, coral, and marine life. An exhibition of this work is planned for 2020 at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid.
Throughout her career and use of variety of mediums, Comte has stayed loyal to her sculpture practice. Though wood is her first love, she often utilizes modern technology such as 3D printing to make models of her wooden originals to reproduce in other materials such as marble, bronze, and ceramic. Comte is proud of her fusion of high tech and low-tech methods of producing. She doesn’t see it as a duality but more of an evolution. Marble evolves through time, heat, and pressure. Bronze becomes hard only after being forged as liquid. The material is dependent on the conditions of the it’s environment. In the same way, Comte embraces her high-tech environment and views it as an extension of the natural world. This method expresses her experiential knowledge on both sides of the environmental argument and makes her critics all the more weighed and level.
On view now near a light filled window in a Parisian apartment The White Ceramic Fatty Kenny, 2019 and The White Ceramic Evil Snake, 2019, by Comte are being exhibited as part of What's Up / Twenty Twenty, a global multivenue exhibition by Lawrence Van Hagen. Both works are made of marble and are in somewhat abstract shapes, juxtaposing the strength of the material to its fragility. The sculptures parallel the Earth’s delicate ecosystems and inspire awareness of how important it is to keep it balanced. It is curatorially fitting, to have these sculptures sitting a top tall, light filled open plinths at the window, with a lush green backdrop of nature.
Comte is the 21st century role model, she strikes the balance of curiosity and contemplation of environmentalism with total grace and impeccable form. She is like her sculptures, inspiring in balance, pure in materiality, and proving of what is possible. Comte doesn’t lead us to the act against climate change with pitchforks; but rather to soothe nature with the man-made technology, finding a synergistic equilibrium to life on Earth. We can’t shame technology for being destructive and we can’t shame nature for not withstanding more. Rather we should invite both to a party, play together, delve deeper than the surface, and arise to occasion that’s been given to us; a world where coral grows on concrete, chainsaws are used with finesse, and sound waves are seen in the desert.