23 February - 30 March 2024



Jewel-coloured micro-landscapes made of miscellaneous elements, assembled so harmoniously that they bring to mind the aesthetics of ikebana. Zoomorphic creatures informed both by biotechnological breakthroughs such as gene editing and by the iconography of sci-fi or animation films. Spray-painted surfaces that seem activated by a sensor in the form of a geometric sculpture resembling robotic or computer parts. Théo Massoulier’s first exhibition with Gaep presents new sculptures, assemblages and bas-relief paintings, which unsettle our conceptual security of what the living state means and speculate on the transformation of our relation to technology.

One cannot localize Massoulier’s references within the confines of a single field; his breadth of inquiry spans biology, physics, philosophy, anime, manga, Neo-Geo art, and pioneering positions in sculpture. It was in Japan that he started considering notions of evolution, otherness, grotesque, and transience. Travelling the country in a gap year after high school, he gained an understanding of its animistic beliefs, which influence how people relate to technology, for instance, and of its cultural attitudes towards the uncanny or the beastly. These added to his previous fascination with Japanese cinema, particularly the films of Hayao Miyazaki and Akira Kurosawa. Later on, during his studies at École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Lyon, Japan became unexpectedly “the matrix for a broader reflection on cycles of evolution, organization and chaos, and how we define living and inert matter.”

Massoulier’s practice is centred on hybrid structures, all with multiple material, conceptual and semiotic layers. The artist acts like a meticulous bricoleur who synthesizes minerals and plants with artefacts or scraps of human technē – what he calls “entropic elements”, in a nod to a key concept in his work: entropy. Despite their diverse materiality (that includes dichroic plates, corals from Mauritius, oyster shells, resins, silicone pieces, dried lichens, and fake rocks, among many others), his sharp assemblages appear organized by some idiosyncratic logic. He (re)arranges the matter intuitively, by trial and error, until an orderly system emerges from a scattered assortment of items. Titled 5G and CriSpr, the serial forms resulting from this process examine the merging between biology and technology, questions of mutation, metamorphosis and predation, the behaviour of entities within networks, and the increasingly hazy taxonomic distinctions between natural and synthetic.

Over the last year, Massoulier has channelled his sculptural vocabulary and his appreciation for the geometric compositions, at the same time psychedelic and dystopian, of painters such as Peter Halley and Dan Walsh into the creation of a different type of hybrid object: bas-relief paintings. He stratifies these works such that one layer – the painted surface with inlaid plexiglass marquetry – echoes a microscopic image of cells or viruses (i.e., basic units of life or biological entities), while the other layer – a sculptural piece on a rail – recalls robots or computer hardware (i.e., advanced technological devices). Massoulier references Bernard Stiegler’s philosophical approach on technology; while the non-living is unorganized inorganic matter and the living is organized organic matter, technology is understood as organized inorganic matter. “Each layer of complexity tends to supersede the previous one”, says the artist. ”The living has dominated the non-living. Will technology dominate the living?”

Such questions underline the distinctive worldview behind Massoulier’s work. Invoking the term “Entropocene” (a variation on Anthropocene that corresponds to increasing rates of entropy production in all its forms, from biodiversity declines to the reduction of knowledge to information and computation), he uses entropy as a good-to-think-with concept. It allows him to think through the radical changes in our society and our environment, and to build speculative scenarios – that look both seductive and dangerous – of a hybridized future. It is the probable future of routine brain implants; of virtual subjects similar to the ones in cyberpunk narratives – either subjects in virtual reality or cyborgs; of all areas of our lives being entangled with machines.


Théo Massoulier about the title of the exhibition

“The word ‘organism’ allows me to connect all of the works in the exhibition to the concept of lyfe (theorized by Stuart Bartlett) and prompts contemplation on the depth of our relationship with the tool (and to its subsequent complex development – technology). Etymologically, ‘organism’ comes from the Greek órganon, which means instrument or tool. The flint tool was the first organ external to the body of the genus Homo.

Our coevolution with the tool has given rise to a new evolutionary lineage which is neither inert matter nor organic matter, but organized inorganic matter. As long as the tool was content to remain a tool, we dominated it in order to make use of it and of its capacity to transform the world. With technology, the power dynamic is liable to reverse. While humans dominated the tool in the past, the future suggests the domination of humans by what they have created.

The evolutionary leap (i.e., increase in complexity) of tools was made possible by the massive influx of fossil energy (ultra-efficient because it is fluid, concentrated and abundant) over the past century. This energy – itself coming from ancient living organisms (plankton, ferns from several million years ago) – was vectorized by the driving forces of human organisms and powered the likely constitution of an organism without organs, which, unlike the cell, appears as hybrid, decentralized, fluid and without contour.

The emergence of organized inorganic matter, however, collectively exacts a debt from us that looks more burdensome with each passing day. For the organizational movement of tools implies and necessarily physically generates (I am referring here to the laws of thermodynamics and entropy) the disorganization of the environment that permits and fuels its growth.

Order calls for chaos.

The exhibition presents a selection of sculptures, assemblages and paintings that question and put into perspective in a fantasized way different dialectics underlying the idea of organism: inert matter and complex matter; growth and predation; spatial scale and emergence; border between interiority and exteriority.”