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Verbier Debate + live Q&A | Video by Crossmark | 1:01:19

Verbier Debate key summary:

  • Artists are called to show an awareness of the ecological crisis in their work and personal life.

  • Art and science should join forces to promote action around the ecological crisis.

  • Institutions play an important role in accelerating sustainable development.


The Verbier Debate (1:01:19) is moderated by Summit’s Academic Director Jean-Paul Felley and features:

03:13 – Claudia Comte, contemporary Swiss artist

07:44 – Tom Battin, Professor of Environmental Sciences at EPFL

14:09 – Madeleine Schuppli, head of Visual Arts at the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia

18:56 – Hedy Graber, head of the Cultural and Social Directorate at the Federation of Migros Cooperatives

25:29 – Panel discussion

49:40 – Live Q&A

The Verbier Debate centered around the 3 main themes of the 2021 Verbier Art Summit: HOPE, FUTURE and TRUST. The panelists discussed the role of art, science and cultural institutions in tackling the ecological crisis and promoting positive change. Jean-Paul Felley, the director of the EDHEA -the Valais School of Art- and the Summit’s Academic Director, contributed to the 2021 Verbier Art Summit programme in multiple ways. He invited the Swiss speakers of the Verbier Debate and also organised a collaboration with his students from the Master of Art in Public Spheres (MAPS) programme and the Sound Arts Department.

It is important that artists show an awareness of the ecological crisis by adopting sustainable artistic practices, but also by modifying their personal life choices.


Claudia Comte, I Have Grown Taller from Standing with Trees, 2019. Photo by Roman März, Courtesy of the artist and Copenhagen Contemporary.


Claudia Comte explains how her artistic practice and personal life are related to ecological conservation. In her opinion, artists have to address the problems of our time and there is not a bigger problem than the current ecological crisis. Growing up around nature heavily influenced her work, which focusses on the environment and natural materials such as locally-sourced wood. She invites us to become aware of the footprint that our activities leave behind by explaining how she has made her work and personal life more sustainable. For example, she bought a self-sustaining house in

the countryside in Basel (which she elaborates on in her 2021 Summit talk), quit eating meat and cut down on travelling. Regarding her artistic practices, she avoids the use of paints with harmful toxins, plants a tree for every wood sculpture created and mostly works locally to avoid the problem of transporting her artworks. Madeleine Schuppli added that she believes artists – especially young artists – are quite aware of the ecological situation, and that the biggest problem is the 'art circus', i.e. the travelling in order to attend exhibitions and art fairs, consuming many resources. Moreover, Madeleine discusses the obsession of the art world to always produce new works as an unsustainable practice.

Art and science should join forces to promote action around the ecological crisis by engaging in collaborative, multi-disciplinary initiatives.


Tom Battin, Gletscher / Glaciers


Science is extremely important to understand the implications of the Anthropocene: a new era which is no longer shaped by natural geological processes, but by human activities. Tom Battin’s scientific research focusses on the unseen life in the rivers that drain the roof of our planet, today threatened by climate change more than any other ecosystem on Earth (which he elaborates on in his 2021 Summit Talk). In order to envision a future for ourselves, we have to accept the fact that humans are part of universal natural laws and stop

worshipping indefinite economic growth. According to Tom, scientists should be creative like artists in order to move beyond the frontiers of knowledge. Tom himself is also a photographer and recognises the importance of converging his scientific and artistic side to better understand the environment. Hedy Graber agrees on this point, highlighting the importance of promoting collaborative, multidisciplinary projects between artists and scientists. Hedy mentions her fondness of the new generation who think without borders and outside of their own discipline.

Cultural and artistic institutions have the power to make an impact by supporting ecologically-engaged artists and projects.

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Alan Bogana (artist who took part in “Home not alone”), Found images, from Polarising Times, 2020


Madeleine explains how the foundation Pro Helvetia, whose mission is to promote Swiss art, has been focusing on issues regarding the environment. An example she provides is the project “Home not alone” about reducing travelling by connecting artists virtually. Similarly, Engagement Migros, a development fund supporting pioneering projects, has also funded ecologically-engaged projects such as the initiative #MoveTheDate, which aims to postpone the day in which the Swiss population will have used up all their natural resources. Engagement Migros supplements the funding activities of the Migros Culture Percentage, a voluntary initiative by Migros in the fields of culture, society, education, leisure and the economy. One of the projects of Migros Culture Percentage is “m2act” which encourages sustainable structures within the performing arts. Hedy explains how Migros Culture Percentage aims to make art production more sustainable by investing both in the ideation part of projects, but also in their diffusion which takes place locally around Switzerland. She believes that we need to have trust in the future although it might seem hard to imagine and maintain an open approach to experimentation. Madeleine concludes by saying that economic aims are often seen in conflict with ecological goals. However, we need to bring these two perspectives together, in order to act fast and effectively.


Manaka Empowerment Prod., Black. Space. Race. Photo by Janosch Abel.

Unplush, Of Humans and other Artifacts. Photo by Roman Brunner.


M2act supports co-creative projects that contribute to sustainable practices, a funding and network project of the Migros Culture Percentage for the performing arts. Click here to learn more.

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Claudia Comte, Jungle and Corals, 2021. Photo by Roman März.


Read more about Claudia’s work and her participation to the 2021 Verbier Art Summit in this article recently published on Wallpaper.


The glacier-fed stream of Furg glacier, Switzerland, 2020. Photo by Vincent de Staercke.

Follow the current expedition of SBER (Stream Biofilm and Ecosystem Research Laboratory) by EPFL, travelling around the five continents to sample the streams of some of coldest environments of our planet here


Portrait of artist Serge Diokota. Photo by Cyril Boixel.


The initiative “Home not alone” by Pro Helvetia connects artists from different countries, so they can develop an ‘informal’ network and have an opportunity to share their experience. Click here to learn more. 



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Tom Battin

Tom Battin is a Full Professor at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) where his laboratory works on the microbial ecology and biogeochemistry of stream ecosystems in mountain regions worldwide. He is intrigued by the massive yet unseen diversity of the microbial life in these ecosystems and how they have adapted to their extreme environment. At the same time, his laboratory works are on the role of streams and rivers for the global carbon cycle, and how climate change is affecting this link. Before joining EPFL, Tom was Professor in Limnology at the University of Vienna and Visiting Professor of the University of Applied Art in Vienna and the University of Uppsala. Before that, he was a postdoctoral fellow in the USA and Spain. He has received the Spanish Ramón y Cajal fellowship and the Austrian Start Prize, the highest award for young scientists. 


Photo by Bertrand Rey


Claudia Comte

Claudia Comte is an artist based in Bennwil, Switzerland. Her work is defined by her interest in the memory of materials and by a careful observation of how the hand relates to different technologies. Claudia studied at the Ecole Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne (ECAL) in 2004-2007, followed by a Masters of Art in Science of Education at Haute Ecole Pédagogique, Visual Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland in 2008-2010. She has presented her work in solo and group exhibitions at Kunstraum, Dornbirn; Castello di Rivoli, Turin; König Galerie, Berlin; Copenhagen Contemporary; Gladstone Gallery, New York; MOCA, Cleveland; Contemporary Art Museum, St Louis; Kunsthalle Basel; Desert X, Palm Springs;  Kunstmuseum Luzern; Public Art Fund, New York;  Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich; and Elevation 1049, Gstaad. Her upcoming exhibitions include: the 58th October salon Belgrade Biennale (June 2021) and a solo presentation at The Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (Spring 2021).


Photo by Gunnar Meier

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Hedy Graber

Hedy Graber is head of the Directorate for Cultural and Social Affairs at the Federation of Migros Cooperatives in Zurich, where she is responsible for the national orientation of the cultural and social projects of Migros Culture Percentage. Her function also includes the establishment and development of the Engagement Migros support fund, which was set up in 2012, with which Migros voluntarily supports projects in the areas of culture, sustainability, business and sport. Hedy is president of the association Forum Kultur und Ökonomie, member of the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences Council, various commissions, juries, foundations and boards of directors, and was awarded the title of European Cultural Manager in 2015. 


Photo by Vera Hartmann

Madeleine Schuppli photo by Sandra Ardiz

Madeleine Schuppli 

Madeleine Schuppli is a Swiss art historian, curator and author. Since 2020 she has been appointed Head of Visual Arts at the Swiss cultural foundation Pro Helvetia, which includes the representation of Switzerland at the Venice Biennale. From 2007 to 2020 she was the first female director of the Aargauer Kunsthaus, where she realised numerous group and solo exhibitions, including shows on Fiona Tan, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, cinema and art, and Swiss Pop Art. In 2009, she initiated the innovative exhibition series for young art CARAVAN for the promotion of aspiring Swiss artists. She was also responsible for an active collection policy with a focus on contemporary works of Swiss art and a dialogical presentation of the holdings. Madeleine is a member of various associations, is an expert in building art committees for cities and companies and is represented in numerous juries for art prizes.


Photo by Sandra Ardizonne

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