Fire Coral (five fingers), 2020

Photo: Roman März | Comte Studio

Almond wood
67.5 x 84 x 31 cm
Commissioned by TBA21–Academy and Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary

This new body of work by Claudia Comte was created during her six-week residency at the Alligator Head Foundation in Portland, Jamaica. Representing a developed interest in urgent questions surrounding the current state of the ocean, rising sea temperatures, and the impact of global warming on the livelihood of essential coral reefs, the new works also link to her broader established interests in environmental conservation and a continuation of her sculptural work in different wood species. 

“I produced a number of sculptures whose forms are reminiscent of coral shapes – slightly abstracted and reduced to simple forms.” Made from the wood of fallen trees in Portland, the sculptures simultaneously evoke life through Comte’s signature stylistic references to the illustrative modes of cartoon and animation, while their hardness and inflexibility also summon the skeletal forms which remain after coral bleaching, a process which occurs as a result of ocean warming. Described as a “stress response” to rises in temperature, coral bleaching is the process by which corals rid themselves of non-functioning plants as quickly as possible, once their ability to photosynthesize and feed those plants has become impaired. As Chus Martinez has highlighted, Comte’s decision to produce a series of coral sculptures in her usual choice of wood has an associative effect: “The works create proxy corals from the core of their fellows in effort: trees… Their force lies in the humble way the material of one species translates the form of another.” The works ask viewers to think of the essential role played by these organisms to the livelihood of the planet and call attention to their rapidly occurring eradication through subtle material gestures. –Elsa Gray