Erosion I & II
'If you halt the erosion of humankind, humankind will halt the erosion of the soil.' – Chandi Prasad Bhatt, environmental activist
One of the most drastic consequences of climate change is massive erosion following extreme weather events. It is the title and leitmotif of Michel Comte's two exhibitions, Erosion I and Erosion II, which will open this fall/winter at the Galerie Urs Meile in Lucerne and at the artist's studio in Uetikon am See, Switzerland.
Comte once described his works as 'gentle reminders of reality', as he uses them to draw attention to climate change. His nearly sacred-looking works of art strive to capture the sublimity of what threatens to disappear soon, or has already vanished. In the process Comte primarily tries to instigate an awareness of the impacts of our actions on our environment, while inspiring us to lead simpler, more sustainable lives. Only if we change ourselves, our lifestyles and our consumer behaviour will we gain the opportunity to slow the progress of environmental destruction.
'Erosion'. The eponymous series of works 'Erosion' encompasses 22 ceramic works (2018, porcelain, rock salt, rock dust and mineral pigments, 33 x 33 x 10 cm each). The darker works are fired with ground rock and coal. Their surfaces are reminiscent of the layer of rust on glaciers, which can be traced back to industrial coal burning that has also been causing the glaciers to melt since the nineteenth century. A mix of salt, rock dust, and pigments lend the lighter works their colouring. The salt refers to the increasing salinisation of the oceans, which is occurring due to the change in the hydrologic cycle (evaporation, precipitation, and circulation) caused by global warming. Rock dust is the result of the immense pressure glacial ice exerts upon the boulders below it.
Ombre (2018, distilled water on handmade, raw rice paper, 66 x 66 cm). Comte had a pigment relief made of each of the 33 x 33 x 10 cm ceramic pieces on handmade rice paper from one of Beijing's oldest paper manufacturers. Dampened with distilled water, the white rice paper is pressed upon the ceramics for several hours. Pressing the pigment against the surface texture of the blocks for more than seventeen hours results in a permanent image on the paper. The sensuous, delicate paper topographies thus produced resemble endless, snow-covered mountain landscapes.
Drifts. With this installation of fourteen cast glass sculptures measuring 20 to 75 centimetres, 'Drifts' (2020, coldworking glass, variable dimensions), Comte presents his newest series of works. From a distance, the individual pieces look like raw rocks. Seen from close up, however, the fascinating interiors of the sculptures open up to the viewer, revealing a similarity to ice formations or crystals, so that they resemble living creatures created by nature. The title, Drifts, refers to the rocks and sediment that emerge through the erosion, shifting and debris of glaciers.
Comte's Drifts are connected to his group of sculptures, Untitled (Murano Glass Mountains, 2017, handcrafted Murano glass, granite dust, 40 x 29 x 20 cm, edition of 2 + 1AP), which are also featured in the show. The four pieces, made of handcrafted Murano glass resemble massifs and were first presented in 2017 as part of the exhibition Black Light, White Light at the Triennale di Milano.
Wood Prints. 'What would human life be without forests, those natural cities?' asked the American author Henry David Thoreau. With Wood Prints (2020, black ink print on paper, 42 x 29.7 cm each), a series of black Japanese ink woodcuts on paper, Comte's theme is the die-off of trees in the present time. As a result of environmental changes, commercial exploitation, and systemic neglect of forests, the 'lungs of the earth' are in serious danger. Their greatest threats are fires, storms, parasites, unsustainable forestry methods and extensive logging.
Press release courtesy Galerie Urs Meile.