Claudia Comte


    Zig Zag

    Two parallel lines march into infinity. They are linked by alternating segments, covering a series of points.

    By definition, they can never cross. They communicate only through the two-way movement of this electric line, this furrow, where they form an ancient, cross-cultural motif, a trademark feature of Claudia Comte’s work: the zigzag.

    It can be found engraved on a Paleolithic bone, discovered in a Bulgarian cave or hand painted on the pottery of every continent. You see it in children’s drawings to capture a fleeting bolt of lightning, woven onto Navajo blankets, as the finishing touch to a piece of fabric. It is the masterful flourish that unifies the decor of the Villa Sommerfeld. It gives the chair of the same name its shape, sparking new ideas for the design of a familiar object. It adorns the wings of moths, offers an ingenious way of cutting out ravioli and turns a San Francisco street into a renowned tourist attraction. In all these ways, the zigzag can be seen as an ideal decorative solution, one that works on both biological and technological levels.

    Even the word itself is made up of two onomatopoeic lightning bolts.

    We can see the two lines of the zigzag as symbols: one represents popular culture while the other stands for elitist culture. Each point in these staggered rows can then represent a practice or discipline from these two fields.

    Now, we can imagine the zigzag as a stitch representing Claudia Comte’s artistic practice, moving tirelessly through a conventional hierarchical repertoire, passing uninhibitedly from low to high and back again. It must be stated from the outset that this is a distinction that the artist herself tends to ignore. More to the point, we need to define the dynamic that triggers this lightning.

    There is an obvious focus in this oeuvre on our relationship with nature, an anchoring in manual expertise and what some may condescendingly call down-to-earth common sense, given the artist’s rural origins – the countryside at the foot of the Jura mountains and a chalet located at the edge of the forest. We must, however, look beyond this. There is more here than simple peasant genius; we must look for the methodological influences in Comte’s head-on approach to objects, the value she gives to a job well done and an unabashed approach to creativity. Such inventiveness finds an interesting outlet in collective occasions – village fetes, for example, and other local events in which the community joins forces, pooling resources and skills to accomplish something together. This could be a decorative project, the restoration of a building or the organization of a show. Such a collective effort resonates with the economy of Claudia’s work.

    When we start by reading an artist’s biography we sometimes succumb to the allure of mythology, so we should avoid dwelling too heavily on these vernacular and folkloric aspects. Claudia soon integrated these elements with a variety of other influences. Thus, she established her own principle of equivalence and intuitive connections between, say, the biomorphic figures of Arp and cartoon scenery. This principle of bilateral equivalence is what sets her apart, for while she can never look at a cartoon without seeing sculptural elements in it, neither can she study a sculpture by Jean Arp without seeing there a cartoon character.

    Multiple influences and references resonate in the artist’s treatment of space. For while the organization of her collections gives the impression of a rigour inherited from modernism, the arrangement might also serve as a backdrop for the Simpsons. The exhibition is a place where the avant-garde can be reconciled with tradition, where concrete art stands cheek by jowl with chainsaw sculpture.

    Shortly before he died, Aby Warburg described himself as a seismograph of the soul on the dividing line between cultures. Here is a fine example of an enlightened zigzag. It seems all the more relevant given that this was the man who saw the significance of the snake among the Hopi Indians as an embodiment of the survival of the lightning motif.

    In Claudia’s work, the zigzag may be done in pyrography, outlined with a chainsaw on charred wood panels or reflected subliminally in the motif of a painted mural. Whatever form it may take, it is an emblem of the dynamic that charges her craft with an idealized modernity and brings life to hackneyed utopias. The 20th century revealed the contradiction between the failure of the modernist project and its uncontested formal and aesthetic revolution. By bringing handcrafts into fine arts and designing an environment for fantasized images of modern life, by contaminating the field of art with vernacular craftsmanship, Claudia Comte shows us that the shortest path linking art and life takes the form of a zigzag. A devastating flash of lightning is no roundabout route but the start of a perpetual motion.

    Guillaume Pilet, 2013