Few artists have such a solid appetite. Curious about everything without ever feigning it’s too much, as others flaunt their fill out of self-importance or calculation, Théo Massoulier savours with great gusto the thousand lessons stemming from literature, philosophy, mathematics, or molecular biology that are infused throughout his work. Seen from afar, this voracity does seem far from the rigorous frugality of the Japanese culture that Théo Massoulier remains very clearly affected by after spending several years in Japan – before attending the Fine Arts of Lyon much later than most. In order to understand this legacy a little, which seems to have so intimately influenced the artist’s work, let us lend an ear to Barthes, who, in Empire of Signs presented this wonderful description of a culinary art far from our usual Western approach, which presents dishes in phases and only offers resolution at the end of the meal: “Entirely visual […] here everything is the ornament of a other ornament: first of all because on the table, on the tray, food is never anything but a collection of fragments, none of which appears privileged by an order of ingestion; to eat is not to respect a menu (an itinerary of dishes), but to select, with a light touch of the chopsticks, sometimes one color, sometime another.”1 This pictorialist definition of Japanese cuisine is equally applicable to Théo Massoulier’s art, which operates through an accumulation of touches of various flavours and whole dishes, patiently combined to compose a perfectly balanced painting. Continuing in this vein, let us highlight another common trait between Massoulier’s art and Japanese culinary art. For both, the miniature is a philosophy. “There is a convergence of the tiny and the esculent: things are not only small in order to be eaten, but are also comestible in order to fulfil their essence, which is smallness” Barthes’s analysis continues.2 As for Massoulier, he produces sculptures in an array of concise forms that he mounts onto coloured plexiglas (sometimes evoking Paul Thek’s assemblages or Tetsumi Kudo’s cages) and presents in a line, in an increasingly zoomorphic temptation, as is the case with his Grenoble-based exhibition; or as an appetizer in the corridor, in the form of a vortex opening his exhibition in La Roche-sur-Foron. In the context of a discussion about this studio practice, requiring both a meticulous approach (the assemblages are sophisticated) and a free hand, the artist evokes the notion of care, which is also inherent to a great deal of Japanese passions if we think for instance of Ikebana enthusiasts, bonsai cutters, or the peerless domestic practice of Mottainai, the art of avoiding waste.
Let us also note that the question of miniaturisation is intrinsically linked to the technologisation of the world that produces increasingly compact connected objects, in order to better form extensions of ourselves. This is another direction that Théo Massoulier takes, who knows his classics by heart (even daring to borrow the quote serving as the title of one of the two exhibitions from Marguerite Yourcenar) while passionately focusing on highly contemporary issues such as gaming, hardware, the figure of the hacker or the new professional category of moders who strip bare and heighten computers to make them more effective: it would appear that techno-diversity today is just as fertile a terrain as the arborescence of biodiversity. It is a territory that is still a blank slate, which gamers are exploring in the manner of the first ethnographers, fascinated by the performances of the machine, as much as by the inherent beauty of these carcasses that, once turned inside out like a glove, easily reveal their cooling mechanisms, a set of hidden fans, and an entire corporeity that sometimes closely resembles a form of erotic exhibitionism. The central piece of the La Roche-sur-Foron exhibition was created based on the informed advice of tutorials found on the net: between minimalist sculpture (checking the boxes of a palette of clear-cut colours, and use of neon lights and plexigas) and the “tuned” monster, “Liquid Tool For The Hidden Cloud” (its title in the form of a haiku), alerting us to a modern contradiction: while we live in an increasingly dematerialised, floating world, computer data is being endlessly accumulated, and weighing on the terrestrial system. What should be done about the invisible weight of these data centres, some of which still run on coal? How can we compensate for the hidden warming of the skeletons of our computers?
An enlightened explorer of these boundless lands that technodiversity unfolds, Théo Massoulier can also play the card of a kind of ‘backyard exoticism’. By cultivating his garden. Or, more specifically, two congruous portions of landscape that are part-aquatic, part-arid, where numerous plant, mineral, but also cultural waste products have been sensitively arranged (figurines and children’s toys, in this confusion of genres that again will not fail to evoke the ability of a strand of Japanese film – notably represented by Miyazaki – to address an audience of young and old alike). The two works are titled Father and Mother and ought to be read as wombs, places of germination, as much as tombs, in an indecisiveness that speaks volumes about the infernal spiral of our world, in which everything is repeated, converges, and eventually stutters.
Born in 1983 in Pertuis, Théo Massoulier lives and works in Lyon. He obtained his DNSEP at the Ensba Lyon in 2016. He exhibited at the Youth Art Biennale in Fortezza (Italy) in 2016, and then participated in 2017 at HyperPavilion during the 57th Venice Biennale (Italy). In 2018 he presented a solo exhibition at the INSA de Lyon entitled Turbozoïc and exhibited with Julie Escoffier at the Centre d’art bastille in Grenoble. The Galerie Kashagan in Lyon devoted the solo exhibition Kairos to him in 2019. Théo Massoulier is currently in residence at the Ateliers du Grand Large (Décines-Charpieu), an artists’ residency directed by the Adéra. He won the Friends of the IAC/Jeune Création – Galeries Nomades2018 Award in April 2019. He was also selected to participate in 2019 in the 15th Biennale of Contemporary Art in Lyon, in the Young International Creation section.