Learning center

Trees that tell a story at the Rolex Learning Center

Claudia Comte, an internationally acclaimed Swiss artist, explains the scientific inspiration behind Tree Line Curve: the remarkable multi-faceted installation that has created a vast “forest” on the terrace of the Rolex Learning Center.

Proposed and produced by the CDH Culture program, Tree Line Curve is part of the anniversary festivities program of the Rolex Learning Center (RLC), and will remain in place until April 24. It consists of 42 pillars made from tree trunks and arranged in a curve under the famous vaulted ceiling of the RLC.

As a work of art, designer Claudia Comte says Tree Line Curve is meant to be open, but she also hopes its installation on the EPFL campus will help spark debate around environmental sustainability issues.

“Students are the next generation; they are our hope to rethink the way we live. I hope this installation can create questions for students who walk through it daily.

Tree Line Curve by Claudia Comte, 2021 Rolex Learning Center, EPFL © Kostas Maros

A celebration of science

For over 15 years, Claudia Comte has been creating works of art using natural materials, including marble, cotton and sustainably sourced wood.

“I wanted to create a forest that would represent a clash between nature and geometry and its integration into an architectural environment. The installation forms a segment of a circle – one of the main geometric shapes,” Comte explains of his inspiration for the work.

Forty-one of the pillars are made from raw spruce trunks and still bear their original sturdy bark. They come from a sustainably managed forest in Fribourg, where two trees are planted for one harvest, and will be recycled after the end of the exhibition.

The final center pillar, on the other hand, is as smooth and shiny as the polished RLC ceiling. Crafted from the trunk of an elm tree – a declining species that has been ravaged by Dutch elm disease in Europe and North America – this central pillar evokes vulnerability as well as strength. A hole carved into its center creates a portal through which passers-by can view the EPFL campus, as well as the multi-layered interior of the vault itself.

“By sanding and polishing the trunk of the elm tree, we finally reveal the smoothness, color and structure within, and the hole in the center allows visitors to observe the rings that grew to create the tree. . These rings are fascinating because they not only tell the story of the tree itself, but also the surrounding climate from which it grew,” says Comte, referring to the science of dendrochronology, which uses tree-ring data to study the Earth’s history and climate over the years. weather.

Next year, she plans to travel to Siberia to work with a Russian research team to collect dendrochronological data on tree trunks exposed to receding permafrost.

“It’s a monumental undertaking, but through the life of the trees we can see our own story,” she says.

Tree Line Curve by Claudia Comte, 2021 Rolex Learning Center, EPFL © Kostas Maros

A campus commitment

For CDH Culture coordinator Véronique Mauron, Tree Line Curve is full of dualities that make it a perfect addition to the EPFL campus.

“What interests me the most is that in the fluidity of the curve is the idea of ​​a boundary – very important in science today – which both intersects the Rolex patio, divides it into new spaces and draws a new path connecting it.” she says.

As well as being part of the Rolex Learning Center’s anniversary celebrations, the 42 pillars complement the 50 new trees that have been planted on the EPFL campus since 2019, as part of the school’s commitment to of sustainable development. As one of the temporary artworks installed on campus each year since 2010 by CDH Culture, Tree Line Curve also balances the campus’ permanent artwork collection.

“The idea is to answer fundamental questions, both at EPFL and in society,” explains Mauron. “We try to provide proposals – not answers – to answer these pressing questions and to stimulate reflection, in the case of Tree Line Curve, on environmental sustainability. To quote the American writer Ursula Le Guin, “science explains and art implies”. By introducing ecological art on campus, CDH Culture proposes to overcome this opposition.

Tree Line Curve by Claudia Comte, 2021 Rolex Learning Center, EPFL © Kostas Maros
About Claudia County

Claudia Comte is a Swiss artist based in Basel. Born in 1983, she graduated from the Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL) and completed a residency at the Swiss Institute in Rome. She has exhibited her work at Art Basel, Bex&Arts, MCBA in Lausanne, Castello de Rivoli in Turin, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid and MOCA in Cleveland, USA.