The Centre of the World–the first stage of a monumental land-art installation by Michel Comte, reaching beyond the border into Syria from ancient Turkish city of Harran–will be completed in 2021. The multimedia artist, climate campaigner and photographer is currently working on an artwork so large that, once complete, it will be visible from space.
Located in Upper-Mesopotamia, roughly 20 kilometers from the present-day border with Syria, Harran lies at the heart of where mankind first bonded in settlement. Archaeological remains – such as those at the site of Göbekli Tepe very close by – demonstrate the earliest signs of civilization as we know it: where the cultivation of crops and the domestication of animals first came into practice and the first connections between religion and architecture were formed. The city, populated by the Sabians—a community of star worshippers, was a vital trading post in the ancient world. Its geographical location provides an outstanding view of the constellation of Orion. Constructed here were the world’s first observatory and university, of which the great archway still stands today. Much later, in the 9th century AD, Harran was the leading city within the Arabic world for the production of celestial globes.
Working with Japanese architect Mitsunori Sano, Michel Comte will chisel an initial series of five (potentially 17) circular excavations ranging from 20 to 25 meters in width and a minimum of 3 meters in depth into the desert ground and covering an area of over 120 kilometers. The scale and position of each circle will mirror the formation of Orion in the night sky, especially visible in the months of February and March. Each evening as the sun goes down and until the moon is visible, the outline of each circle will be gradually lit, forming a connection between the knowledge of the ancient Sabian star worshippers and technology today.
“Appreciating this work will require commitment in the strict sense of the word: The Centre of the World is not at first easily visible, plus it is located far from the beaten track, in a site loaded with history extending from the beginning of civilization to the current time. People first have to make their way here and then they have to experience it at different moments of the day in order to fully appreciate all the variations that light and shadow will create.” ~ Michel Comte
Comte chose to work in Harran on this land-art installation because of its multilayered historical, societal and religious legacy in combination with the complex socio-political reality of today. His aim is to build a bridge between the ancient and the new, as Comte notes, “a road to peace.”
Michel Comte’s commitment to socially orientated projects started more than 30 years ago. In 1994–95, he worked to support the building of an orthopedic hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, traveling there many times over the year. Similar projects followed, including auctions to raise money for the International Committee of the Red Cross and organizations alike worldwide.
Throughout his years as a fashion photographer, he worked on photo assignments from the International Red Cross in war-ravaged regions including Bosnia, Angola, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan and Somalia. Comte’s book People and Places with No Name, published by Steidl records much of what he saw during these years. During the Gulf War, he went twice to Iraq and also worked in Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt and Syria.