Serge Comte

At the opening of his recent show, Serge Comte presented a surprise miniconcert: he and a young woman sang a duet, reproducing songs each was listening to separately on a Walkman—their hesitant vocalizations creating a vaguely psychosexual ambience. According to Comte, a young artist whose work comes out of what is now considered the third-generation “Grenoble School,” the exhibition, while it appeared in the public space of a gallery, addressed his notion of being “safe at home,” where everything is permissable and one is protected from the prying gaze of others. Comte’s work is inspired by what he describes as “Sweetly extravagant moments when, at home by yourself, you can ‘have yourself a party,’ singing, dancing, putting on makeup, but not for yourself, and not necessarily for show.” This relaxed state is heightened by a “cathodic comfort” diffused by heat and light generated by computers or televisions that are left on with the sound turned off, as well as by the security and freedom of being able to do everything at home with the aid of a VCR, a home computer, and the Post-it notes typically used in offices.

Like the male/female duet that greeted one at the entrance to the gallery, Comte’s search for domestic tranquility suggests a fluid subjectivity, capable of slight transformations and dissociations. Each of his shows is a fragmented self-portrait, and his trademark tool is the Post-it, which serves as a lightweight, repositionable medium for his narcissistic vocabulary. At once a tiny screen and an enormous pixel, each Post-it is a fragment of the vast screen that forms the exhibition. Conveying the waste products of his memory, they form a fragmented journal of his obsessions and distractions. Comte uses this material in multiple ways: to create “self-portraits,” to compose images, to form what he calls “repositionable tapestries” on the wall of the gallery, and even to create a fanzine called Crème de la crème.

Also displayed in the show were his “self-portraits”—cobbled together, low-resolution morphings that result when Comte’s face is mixed with computer images, creating virtual characters he calls “Une délicieuse pucelle” (Delicious virgin) or “Supperbbastard.” At the center of the exhibition, he placed a giant, morphed “Lilith” face composed of printed Post-its: the dreamily androgynous guardian of the show, it reigned with closed eyes over this constellation of male and female superheroes.

Comte’s activity, as this show testified, does not stem from an ironic narcissism, or even from genuine superficiality; rather, it envelops the audience in an atmosphere where dissociation from self, instead of falling into the pathos of the symptom, opens a path to a more relational kind of freedom.

Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Jeanine Herman.