In the Turkish province of Şanlıurfa in northern Mesopotamia, the completed work of art is expected to be completed in around ten years.
He is one of the best-known photographers in Switzerland and has had the big stars in front of his camera for decades. An accident made it impossible to continue his career: Michel Comte (68) had to switch. And is now one of the most important artists in the country. His most ambitious, perhaps even most megalomaniac project: “I leased land in Turkey that is 40 by 60 square kilometers. On top of that we build art that one day can be viewed from space.” Comte’s dream: a 120-kilometer light installation that reflects the constellation of Orion at night.
The huge, sparsely populated property is located in northern Mesopotamia near the Syrian border. The landscape is desert-like. “The country is available to us from the Turkish government for 50 years. The plan is that we upgrade the barren area with our mega-project, revitalize it and develop it for tourism, maybe one day transform it into a cultural site including a university that is unique in the world, »explains Comte. The project is financed with sponsorship money, but also by the initiator himself, who repeatedly sells his own art. Comte believes it will take around ten years for his vision to be implemented.
Back in the old homeland
The man from Zurich, who lived in the USA for decades but now lives in his old homeland again, has traveled to Mesopotamia dozens of times. There he spends the night in a tent, works with Syrian refugees, courts local politicians, and works with architects and other artists. “I encounter a lot of goodwill everywhere,” he says. “The enthusiasm to create a kind of limitless dream world is great.”
Setting no limits has always been Comte’s motto. After training as an art restorer, he worked in an art gallery. Then he devoted himself to photography – and became the star of the industry! His sometimes lavishly staged portraits of film idols such as Sophia Loren (88), George Clooney (61) or Sharon Stone (64) appeared regularly in fashion bibles such as “Vogue” or “Vanity Fair”, later they were exhibited in museums around the world.
Parallel to the glittering world, Comte repeatedly visited war zones as a photographer for the International Red Cross. He was in Afghanistan, Uganda, Yemen, Iraq and Kosovo. “I’ve met the best and the baddest people in the world,” he recalls of the time between the glamor of show business and the horror of war.
Hundreds of splinters in the eye
In 2010 the accident happened. Comte sat in his home in Los Angeles and was just about to unpack a package. Then a piece of metal from the packaging shot into his glasses. The glass shattered into thousands of pieces, many of which landed in his right eye. «I was immediately blind. It bled terribly.” He went to countless eye clinics over the next year to regain his sight. Vain. A special laser treatment in Switzerland finally restored 90 percent of his vision.
Unable to take photographs during this period, Comte began to focus on his work as a visual artist. “In retrospect, this accident turned out to be almost a stroke of luck,” he says. “He sparked a passion in me that I hadn’t felt so strongly before: to create pictures, sculptures and installations.” The passion was promptly returned by the audience. Since then, Comte has had exhibitions in China, Italy and the USA. Exhibitions in England and the Vatican are planned for 2023.
“I don’t like no for an answer”
The artist is particularly proud of the fact that he was always independent throughout his life. He describes his secret of success as follows: “I don’t like no for an answer.” Comte is convinced that one can move mountains with willpower alone. Or just stomp a giant work of art out of the desert. “The more impossible something seems to me, the more it drives me to realize it,” he says, looking up at the sky, lost in thought. To the place from where his art will one day also be on view.
“Michel Comte – New Light: The Portrait of a Restless Artist” (3Sat, Saturday, November 5, 9:50 p.m.)