Theo lives and works in London. He studied fine art at Saint Martins School of Art and the Royal Academy, followed by a Stanley Picker Fellowship, Kingston University.
"Theo Kaccoufa's work explores visions of the future and questions the possible outcomes of genetic manipulation. Appearing like ghosts of the natural world, his three-dimensional wire drawings of flowers are born out of the desire for constant improvement, the search for that which is bigger, better and longer lasting.
In Kaccoufa’s work, Genetic Manipulation, hubristic recklessness and toys of the future are structured within a ‘post-utopian’ moment. The Cyber Flora sculptures comprising three-dimensional steel wire flowers resemble fantastical molecular models. The Bear sculptures with Griffith wings and octopus legs are genetically modified creatures of polyester resin and aluminium foil rather than cuddly teddies. Bringing together undifferentiated- technical practice, poetic intuition and the grotesque, his works critically engage with the speculative idealism of twentieth century utopianism."
Selected exhibitions include: 2012: Giants of the Infinitesimal, Magna Science Adventure Centre, Rotherham. 2011: Giants of the Infinitesimal. Museum of Science and Industry, (MOSI), Manchester. 2010: Ghost III, London. 2008: Domestic Appliance, Flowers East, London. 00' Nature, Contemporary Art Projects, London. 2007: UBE Biennalle Model Competition, Japan, 2007 / Prized maquette. 2006: V22 Contemporary Art Collection Exhibition, London: A-21 International Art Exhibition, Contemporary Art Space, Osaka. 2005 The Real Ideal, Millennium Galleries, Sheffield. 2005: The Real Ideal, Millennium Galleries, Sheffield; Painting is Cruel, Danielle Arnaud, London. 2004: Artists Machines, M+R Gallery, London; 22 Exhibition, 22 Art & Space, London. 2003: Sense & Nonsense, Danielle Arnaud, London. 2002: Fuse: After Dolly, ICA, London; Diversion, Museum Garden History, London; Lookers and Bears, Hari's, London. 2001 Theoland, Solo Show, Ha Gamle Prestagard, Norway. 1998 Theo Kaccoufa, Solo Show, Well Hung Gallery, London. 1997: In Residence, In Transit, Picker Gallery, Kingston, Surrey; Drawn & Quartered, Well Hung Gallery, London. 1996: Kiss IV, Gallery K, London.
In the exhibition Giants of the Infinitesimal (GoI), Tom Grimsey and Theo Kaccoufa have taken the idea of magnifying the nanoworld literally. Grimsey is a sculptor who sees science, and nanoscience in particular, as a route out of the postmodern impasse; the sincerity of science as an antidote to ironies of contemporary art..
Theo Kaccoufa is a kinetic artist and a genius at constructing pretty well any electromechanical machine you could imagine. Together they set out to create kinetic sculptures on a large scale, abundantly visible to the eye, that mimic some of the astonishing things that happen in the nanoworld.
Extract from The Times review by Peter Forbes.
Peter Forbes is the author of Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage (Yale UP), which won the 2011 Warwick Prize for Writing.
A sculpture of the beautiful honeycomb lattice of graphene – the super-strong material which led to last year’s Nobel prize – is part of a new exhibition which premieres at MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester) this week, alongside sculptures of carbon nano-tubes and porphyrins (the working component in chlorophyll and red blood cells).
In Giants of the Infinitesimal (Running until 31 March 2012), renowned sculptors Tom Grimsey and Theo Kaccoufa have worked with top nano-scientists from the Universities of Liverpool, Nottingham, Sheffield and Glasgow to make the invisible visible by creating large-scale versions of nano-particles which visitors can manipulate in the same way that scientists do in the laboratory. It shows how this exciting new area of science will radically improve many fields, from computing, to energy, to waste reduction.
Art meets science in this fascinating revelation of the minutiae of nature, from a hands-on interactive showing an enlarged version of the tiny chains of nano-particles, known as nano-wire (which are expected to make computing 1000 times faster than current machines), to models showing the constant movement of atoms, and the self assembly of atoms at the nano-scale.
Read the full article at the Creative Boom
The sculptors Theo Kaccoufa and Tom Grimsey show an exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry to celebrate university Professors’ research.
Image: Theo Kaccoufa (left) and Tom Grimsey (right) with Graphene kinetic sculpture (above). Giants of the infinitesimal Exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry.
The Mancunian Photo: Jennifer Ho.
"The group of Genetically Modified Bears by Theo Kaccoufa present us with the paradox of both attraction and revulsion. They refer directly to the future with their dull metallic sheen and suggest the possibilities of genetic manipulation.
This group of poetic wire sculptures take the form of painted lines in space, which whilst being beautiful are also oversized and unnatural.
Extract from Press Release, The Real Ideal, Utopian Ideals and Dystopian Realities
... don't head upstairs, where Theo Kaccoufa's water-filled bed is less the Dream River (2000) of its title than the embodiment of a Freudian bed-wetting nightmare.
Extract from Martin Coomer 's review. The Big Issue, August 2008 Domestic Appliance, Flowers East, 82 Kingsland Road, London E2
Twenty-three artists have intervened at the Museum of Garden History, juxtaposing new work with existing exhibits. Intervention is perhaps too strong a term for what's going on, since in many cases you have to hunt painstakingly for the work with the aid of a treasure map. And that's before you get to the garden itself I
n the Garden, One Minute to Love is a covert installation by Theo Kaccoufa (it's another one that has to be winkled out of the background). This work makes the viewer feel like the dupe in a farce who doesn't see the other actors moving props around behind his back.
Extract from Jim Healy's review.
Whats On, August 2002.
Diversion, Museum of Garden History, Danielle Arnaud contemporary art.
Domestic Appliance Exhibition Catalogue
Even though Gregor kept telling himself there was nothing peculiar going on, just a few sticks of furniture being moved around, he soon had to admit to himself that the to-ing and fro-ing of the two women, their little exhortations to one another, the scraping of the furniture on the floor, did have the effect on him of great turmoil nourished on all sides.
In a gallery inhabited by a sense of the familiar made strange, a chair lies, 'face' down, on the floor; its wooden supports assert themselves as air-beating limbs, twitching and flickering in a futile struggle against its downcast destiny. The scene recalls the literary moment par excellence of the banal terror of transformation; Kafka's protean protagonist Gregor Samsa wakes to discover he is a dung beetle, an absurd fait accompli that propels him into a similarly fraught conflict with the impossibility of his form. In this instant, Kafka foresees a spectrum of 20th century ideologies and ideological afflictions: Communism, Cold War,the degraded nature of modern existence in general, and of bourgeois life in particular. But while the scene may suggest itself as a blueprint for the existential dilemma of Everyman, by accepting the transformative image as allegory we perhaps miss the meanings that are nurtured in a space that is in all respects closer to home.
In a gallery inhabited by a sense of the strange made familiar, a chair suggests the way in to re-thinking the tools of interpretation. It is not only the mimicking of a form at odds with itself that links Kafka's cockroach to the flailing creature that confronts us. An often overlooked feature of the Metamorphosis is the significance of furniture in the progression of the narrative. Domestic objects out-perform their role as props throughout the story: there is the sofa under which Gregor lodges himself, sheltering from the morbidly fascinated glare of his family, its cool leather skin a sanctuary when he becomes 'quite hot with shame and regret' at the distress his appearance provokes. When the expanse of his body becomes too vast to be hidden by the sofa alone, he drapes a tablecloth over the entire assemblage; an act of concealment that closets the family's newly fleshed-out skeletons. There is the dinner table around which drama ceremoniously unfolds: following the transformation of his son, Gregor's father insists on dozing fully clothed in his dining chair, his feelings of helplessness manifested in a refusal to exchange his upright position at the head of the table for the surrender of sleep. Having affronted his mother by emerging from his hiding place, Gregor's self-disgust propels him to crawl up the walls before falling into the middle of the table, presenting himself like an absurd offering to his horrified parents. There is the door through which Gregor observes the continuing rituals of his family, his keyhole optic providing a tantalising slither of access to the life in which he once played a part. Most significantly, perhaps, there is Gregor's emotional response to the movement of furniture in and out of his room .When his mother and sister take it upon themselves to clear the space of obstacles in order to allow him to crawl freely, he fears that the loss of these markers of his existence, objects 'that seemed to have taken root in the floor', might cause him to 'rapidly and utterly forget his human past'. But it is not until lodgers are taken in by the family, and his room becomes a repository for the clutter and surplus furniture that once punctuated the house, providing it with its familial grammar, that he recognises he has been truly written-out of their shared narrative. There is clearly a case to be made for what furniture stands for in this story of transformation, and perhaps, taking into account the collapsed state of the chair that mimics Gregor's plight, what it does not stand for.
The chair that models itself in the image of Kafka's modern anti-hero is, by means of its appellation, also a Monument to the Isms. The author of this work, British artist Theo Kaccoufa, explains that the title acknowledges the 20th century art movements that were 'once vigorous creatures roaming the earth' and which now 'occasionally kick and struggle to regain their footing'. In manifesting this art historical critique in the ultimate image of alienation, mixed metaphors of metamorphosis abound: where Kafka begins his novella with the ridiculous but resonant proclamation that a man is now a large insect, Kaccoufa conjures the equally contentious proposal that artistic movements are an endangered species victim to the dialectical dangers of historical negation. These bold statements about modernity are brought to bear, remarkably, by a piece of furniture; that which is understood to be neither animate, nor driven by momentum, in accordance with the ascensional logic of (art-) history. Yet here is a chair that moves, and surrounding this chair in a gallery full of strangely familiar and familiarly strange objects - are other pieces of furniture that pulse and perambulate to the glitchy beat of a self-generated score. The conspicuously robotic jerking of the chair reminds us that Kaccoufa's Monument to the Isms, unlike Kafka's, is not organic, but mechanical, and in acknowledging this distinction, the final piece in the metamorphic equation comes into play. The relationship between man and machine - the pre-war utopian ideal of their harmonization and the dystopic post-historical paranoia surrounding their competing struggles for supremacy - not only provides an important context for reading Kafka, but also sets the scene for the story that we are about to tell.
Extract from Domestic Appliance Exhibition Catalogue
Text by Ellie Harrison-Read, Curator.
Flowers East , London
THOMAS BAUMANN / IAN BURNS / JIM BOND / MAX DEAN, RAFFAELLO D'ANDREA & MATT DONOVAN / THEO KACCOUFA / KRISTOF KINTERA / TIM LEWIS / HAROON MIRZA / GOSHA OSTRETSOV / STEVEN PIPPIN / JAIME PITARCH / NATHANIEL RACKOWE / NIK RAMAGE / CAROLINE TATTERSALL / JEAN TINGUELY / ANTOINE ZGRAGGEN
Independent, Friday, 7 October 2005
Utopian ideals? Dystopian realities? This exhibition of work by 11 youngish artists at the sleekly appointed Millennium Galleries in Sheffield sounds a little pretentiously off-putting. But the idea that drives it is less intimidating, and less lofty and out-of-the-ordinary, than the title may seem to suggest.
This is what it's all about. Artists - like the rest of us - have visions of ideal worlds. Unfortunately, the real world - of compromise, shady dealings and all the grubby human baggage that we never fail to drag along behind us - always manages to come between us and our lofty visions, and all that stuff gets mixed in with the art, too. It's a simple idea - and a very ancient one. It's also a baggily accommodating notion that can be reduced to such platitudes as: art is always complicated by life, and things aren't quite what they seen.
In spite of the pseudo-academic posturing of the title, there is a lot of good work in this show, and it's well presented, too. In fact, to walk through it, passing from space to space - each partially shielded from the next by a series of false walls - across a highly polished floor that reflects light back up, is a kind of dreamily disturbing experience, and rendered all the more so by the sound track spilling out of the room that houses Pipilotti Rist’s Sip My Ocean, a video installation that is playing, over and over again, to the accompaniment of the artist singing a song in a high-pitched, girly voice. At first she sings cooingly, as if to reassure us. Then, all of a sudden, that voice is joined by another, of a girl - perhaps it's the same girl, overdubbed - screaming like a mad thing.
Some of the best work here is by Theo Kaccoufa. He has created a series of wall-mounted wire sculptures. Displayed against soft green walls that resemble billiard tables in their hue and their soft yieldingness, they look, in their gentle twistings and outflowings, like prototypes - or genetically modified prototypes - of strange plants; or perhaps, even the (gulp) skeletons of prototypes of genetically modified plants. It is all so troublingly betwixt and between. The colours with which he overpaints all those intricately convoluted, though quite pleasingly seductive, wire-works, are soft and pastel-like lemony yellows and dullish pinks, as if none of them would ever hurt a fly, let alone snap open to eat one. He calls them Cyber Flora, and that seems about right in teasy, question-begging way.
Next, we drift to some mangled silverware by Cornelia Parker, with the cooing and the screaming ever at our back. Parker has often been in the habit of suspending her work from the ceiling by thin and almost invisible wires, as if what she is offering us is only partially here at all, like any other object that might choose to levitate in front of our eyes. Here, in Thirty Pieces of Silver (Exhaled) Sugar Bowl, we see a ring of silver objects hovering six inches above the ground. They are all stationary, but they look as if they might have made a momentary pause in their giddy, spinning, lives for our benefit, like some thoughtful constellation of ever-turning stars. All those things - a jug, a tea pot, a salver – were beautiful items for adorning a table until someone chose to squash them flat. The result is that, although they may have pretty well retained their forms, they are now nothing other than images of their former selves, wholly useless. They display the reality and the simple usefulness of the object, compared with the uselessness and the almost spectral unreality of tainted art.
The Guardian, October 24, 2005
The Real Ideal claims to be a "response to the tension between utopian visions of the world and the imperfect reality of everyday life". What the show really illustrates, however, is the depressing insularity of the contemporary art industry, where whatever goes around eventually comes around. For example, take Michael Samuels' miniature tropical islands, constructed from DIY materials laid on workmanlike wooden trestles. I last encountered these two years ago in a show in Sunderland, where they were brought in to illustrate a quote appropriated from William Blake. Then there are Pipilotti Rist's videos of herself behaving very badly, which crop up all the time in shows claiming to challenge the gender hegemony of this, that or the other. At least such catch-all concept shows can be relied upon to provide some amusement with the earnestness of the explanatory wall panels. Diana Thater's digital weather system, we are told, is a 21st-century reinterpretation of the sublime, in which "we see the beauty of the projection without thinking about the technology which openly enables its existence". Alternatively, you may ask yourself why there are DVD players and wires all over the floor, without noticing the clouds on the ceiling. You really have to work to make connections for yourself. Rist's scuba-diving film features some close-ups of a coral reef that may just - at a pinch - tie in with Theo Kaccoufa's creepy GM teddy bears, which has developed squid-like tentacles, or the dangling filaments of his Cyber-Flora. Taken on their own merits, Kaccoufa's fernlike contributions could make a coherent exhibition, which leads you to wonder: with fronds like these, who needs anemones?
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005
Theoland Exhibition Catalogue
It is said that when Franz Kafka read his novels to an audience, he had them in stitches. That might surprise us now, but Kafka was not always the totem of gloominess that he has become. In fact, to portray him so simply is to deny the importance of humour in his work. This humour does more than simply rub shoulders with Kafka’s characteristic cruelty and paranoia: it becomes its agent. Think of his most celebrated story, Metamorphosis, in which the ‘hero’ awakes one morning to find himself transformed into a beetle. Not only is this a tragic predicament, it is also very funny. Furthermore, part of the tragedy stems from the indignity of being the butt of a cruel joke.
Empathy plays an important role in humour. Part of laughter’s function is to dispel the infectious nature of the other man’s bad fortune. By finding humour in Kafka’s Metamorphosis, we are distancing ourselves from the beetle’s predicament, something that we need to do precisely because of our potential for empathy, which threatens to draw his catastrophe closer to home. So humour, anxiety and empathy aren’t simply discrete emotions. They interact.
Consider Theo Kaccoufa’s objects constructed from old bits of furniture. The chair lying on its back, impotently wagging its legs in the air like an upturned tortoise, is animated in the true sense of the word: it has the presence of a Being. The viewer can empathise with its helpless predicament. At the same time, the spectacle is morbidly funny, and this collision of two normally distinct emotions creates a lingering sense of anxiety.
In the same room is a small bed, and, like the chair, this object gives the impression of human presence. This is not simply due to the ghost, the absent user, that any ergonomically designed object suggests, but rather because of the sense of theatre that the sculpture creates. The edges of a slit in the blanket are peeled back, as if held by a speculum during surgery. This wound or eye-like aperture frames a body of water, exactly in the middle of which is a vortex. The shape of the opening, the damp patch that surrounds the whirlpool, and the slit’s position on the sheet create an unsettling impression of unruly, animal physicality, triumphant, abject, or both.
Besides showing examples of his work, this catalogue also contains sketches from his note-books. Many of these illustrate his working-process. Although the impetus to make an object might come from an initial vision, its execution is often technically involved. He takes great care over the ‘workings’ of the apparatus that drives his sculptures. When I spoke to him prior to writing this essay, I was struck by his admiration for engineers and the high level of craftsmanship that some of them display. Figures like Charles Babbage, the father of modern computing and the creator of the Difference Engine, are just as important to him as sculptors like Tinguely or Panamarenko. But his objects don’t seem predominantly engineered, nor to they seem to be products of the rational, waking mind. Although these dream-images have bubbled up through many layers of conscious thought, through the engineer’s concern with taps and dyes and the mechanics of production, they break surface with all the startling iridescence of an instantly realised thought. Not only does Theo have a particular talent for daydreaming, for meditating upon an object with the clear and unprejudiced vision of a child, he is able to communicate a sense of dangerous play. His objects have something of a Surreal character. Like Meret Oppenheim’s Fur Cup and Saucer, or Man Ray’s spiky iron, they betray their birthright, and stand before us, rude reminders of the subconscious jungle.
Theo’s sculptures, rich in theatrical symbolism, demand the spectator’s active and imaginative participation. Although his furniture pieces are constructed from commonplace objects, and are, therefore, obdurately present and mundane, they also offer the possibility of imaginative escape and mental projection. Whether they are doors, draws or wound-like slits, the openings that are so common in Theo’s work create an impression of interiority. Each object seems to offer the potential of entry to another parallel fictive space, the arena of Theo’s dream-world. But nothing is deliberately spelt out or obviously signalled. The exact meaning of the slit or the precise nature of the space under the bed is left open to speculation, but there is no doubt that his objects are concerned with aspects of human experience and imagination, and this is precisely what lends them their unsettling resonance.
The show, Theoland, is divided into two sections. If the upstairs is reminiscent of a Kafka novel or gothic movie, downstairs seems like an altogether more cheerful option. Here, the humour is more overt, as is his interest in technology.
A series of oversized domestic appliances with strange names seem to hint at a future world of at-your-fingertips utility and easy convenience. You might be forgiven for thinking that these objects, with their names full of consonants like a bizarre acronym, are props left over from a naïve 50’s visualisation of ‘Tomorrow’s Home’, yet there is something oddly disturbing about the slow-movement of the crocodile-clips on WPZDVM’s cutting edge, and the steady but unspectacular rotation of PZDVMW’s mincer. Their uncanny and otherworldly lassitude suggests the graceful languor of aquatic life or the minute movements of single celled animals. A close examination reveals that these objects aren’t created with people in mind at all: their design isn’t remotely ergonomic, and in a domestic context they are utterly useless. They have evolved. These formerly domesticated implements have upset the apple-cart, cut Man out of the picture, and gone feral.
This particular nightmare is neither rare nor novel, think of Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots, or Stanley Kubrik’s 2001, but it is part of an urgently contemporary debate. Their strange titles, a jumble of W’s P’s and V’s, suggest the annotation of some kind of genetic information capable of being juggled at will. Likewise, their over-life-size scale and faintly menacing air seem to parody the public’s mistrust of GM crops. It is as though contact with ‘manipulated’ fruit and veg has affected their own genetic makeup.
A bizarre group of distorted teddies are more specifically concerned with Genetic Modification. Even their dull metallic sheen has something of the lab about it, being as recognisable as ‘The Future’ as flock wallpaper is reminiscent of a Victorian pub. Normally teddies offer comfort to children: children identify with them, after all, bears are like people with the rough edges knocked off. They have a head, two arms and two legs - in other words, they are sufficiently familiar to be a comforting substitute for human company during the long hours of the night, and Theo’s teddies are very cute indeed. The trouble is, they are also very weird. Surely, no child could empathise with a teddy that had eight octopus legs or griffin’s wings - or so you would have thought. But even the most cursory examination of modern toys reveals a juvenile taste for the bizarre and grotesque. Our shops and t-v sets offer a marvellous spectrum of bad-taste monstrosity from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Butt Ugly Aliens, a world rich in transformation, flux, and shape-shifting oddity. What is genuinely disturbing about Theo’s teddies is a very contemporary paradox. On the one hand, modern man has a great capacity for change, and will readily accept technological intervention and its ramifications. He can embrace cloning and gene therapy, straight cucumbers and bottled eggs: but modern man is also a very sentimental beast, anxious to return to nature, to buy natural and eat natural. This sentimentality is the agent of outrage. The thought of anyone actually giving a grisly eight legs is a horrible thought. We would demand answers. We would want to know who would dare do such a thing. But we would also be interested, and if we are honest, we might recognise something akin to prurience in our curiosity.
Demi-urgical hubris has always been a fascinating character-trait from Prometheus to Dr Moreau. Perhaps these figures capture the imagination because, in some way, we seek to emulate their bold and transgressive behaviour. Perhaps, in the privacy of our own hearts, there is a part of us that would enjoy meddling with the divinely ordained pattern of life, and not for any good reason, but just to see what it was like. This appetite for the monstrous and new has become confused with notions of progress when, perhaps, the real motivation is a simple curiosity and a taste for the grotesque.
Standing in front of his teddy-bears towards the end of our conversation, Theo introduced the subject of genetic modification. Creating an image of an ideal Eden, a brave new world full of over-sized and super-sweet fruit, he surprised me by saying:I want to see big bunches of grapes
He spread his hands like a boastful fisherman’s to indicate just how enormous he wanted these grapes to be, before adding,
...even if they kill me.
The funny thing was, he was smiling as he said it.
Theoland, solo show, 2001, Ha Gamle Prestgard, Norway,