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Seven serendipitous stochasticons

Watch Jean-François Podevin's latest project,

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INSIDE LIBERTY’S HEAD :  This is an image drawn from what the artist called a “composite dream.” - IMAGE BY J.F. PODEVIN
  • IMAGE BY J.F. PODEVIN
  • INSIDE LIBERTY’S HEAD : This is an image drawn from what the artist called a “composite dream.”

I don’t think straight,” the artist said, half apologetic, flipping through one of the 177 sketchbooks that formed the basis for his exhibit “Composite Memories.” Graphic artist by trade, installation artist out of sheer fascination, Jean-François Podevin has spent his career trying to inflict order on the vague and intangible, happily embracing the intrinsic contradictions of his efforts.

But does anyone really think straight? True, the French-born artist said, our thoughts and ideas crave expression in a linear, cohesive fashion, but in our minds they have a fluid quality: Our memories are incomplete, unreliable records, open to outside suggestion, super-imposed with other memories like over-exposed film, or like transparencies stuck to one another on the overhead projector of human consciousness.

Our memories are composite.

About three years of work went into Podevin’s latest show, currently on display at the Cuesta College Art Gallery. The seven freestanding machines that make up the exhibit (stochasticons, he calls them, or “display contraptions”) each contain 365 images, assembled in rows of four, for 45,000 possible combinations. “Composite Memories” is actually a project decades in the making, one that began with the artist’s move to California from France in his 20s.

PHILIPPE’S FLYING COMPASS :  Podevin represents his brother as a pilot flying through a gyroscope. - IMAGE BY J.F. PODEVIN
  • IMAGE BY J.F. PODEVIN
  • PHILIPPE’S FLYING COMPASS : Podevin represents his brother as a pilot flying through a gyroscope.

“I felt a little bit uprooted, and saw myself from a distant point of view,” the artist, seated among his sketches and stochasticons, explained to New Times. “And I started here to recapitulate all my memories. I tried to remember all the names of my classmates.”

The feeling he was experiencing wasn’t quite nostalgia, he said. The purpose was more “to reconstruct who I was.” Feeling a sense of freefall without the network one has in one’s home country—“the places they’ve been, their family, all their sweet stories”—Podevin began to draw things from memory, like the view from the back of the train as it made its way to his grandmother’s town, where it had carried him many times before and would bring him again. He always sat at the back, he said, to see the rail. His interest in seeing where he had been (as opposed to where he was, or was going to) was later echoed in his desire to accurately reconstruct memories of a boyhood spent in France.

“This kind of drawing, that was my theory: Memory was something exact,” he said. “It could almost be a science of remembering things.”

THE MASTERY OF TIME :  Behold a myriad chronological contraptions. - IMAGE BY J.F. PODEVIN
  • IMAGE BY J.F. PODEVIN
  • THE MASTERY OF TIME : Behold a myriad chronological contraptions.

Then the artist came across the memory that would be the cornerstone of the project. It was a pleasant one, he said, if somewhat elusive, a soft-focus mental photograph: a family gathering, somewhere in the east of France. A nice restaurant. A sunset on a lake. Podevin asked his relatives about it, each remembered it, but in a different place and time—“which was fascinating,” he said, “I spoke to my father about it, and he said, ‘Oh, that must be a composite memory.’ I said, ‘I’ve never heard that word before.’ And he said, ‘Well, it’s easy if you go to the same place every year; you might confuse the people you were with.’ And then somehow I’d given so much importance to the fact that memory was exact, it just shattered my whole belief.”

Memories, he realized, were not concrete, saved like a document to be opened later exactly as one has left them, but creative, malleable and open to manipulation with each revisiting.

Podevin wanted to give structure to his fluid, inaccurate memories, and when words fell flat, he turned to drawing. Through his work in graphic design, he converted his sketches into a stunning collection of digital images not unlike the cover illustrations he created for the likes of Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, and The Scientific American.

MILLES DEPARTS :  Podevin’s son Mike makes a semi-translucent cameo in A thousand departures. “As the generations recede in the distance, they are also fading, to finally vanish at the point where the arrows of time and space meet on the horizon line with an ambivalence of sadness and euphoria,” the artist commented. - IMAGE BY J.F. PODEVIN
  • IMAGE BY J.F. PODEVIN
  • MILLES DEPARTS : Podevin’s son Mike makes a semi-translucent cameo in A thousand departures. “As the generations recede in the distance, they are also fading, to finally vanish at the point where the arrows of time and space meet on the horizon line with an ambivalence of sadness and euphoria,” the artist commented.

Each of the dreamlike images, which align themselves randomly in rows of four (rather like a slot machine), carries a specific meaning for Podevin. But in presenting them as he does, allowing the viewer to manipulate the pictures’ alignment, he relinquishes control, giving us interpretive free reign within a preconceived but expansive landscape. Think of it as fine art’s answer to the Choose Your Own Adventure novel.

Eyeing a row of images randomly aligned on a freshly assembled stochasticon, titled Instances of Eternity, this reporter asked, “All right, then. What’s that one about?”

Working from left to right, Podevin elaborated on the images and their correlations: The first (or last) picture, titled Milles departs, or A thousand departures, is a scene in a train station, or rather several scenes, superimposed. The next is an image titled The mastery of time, followed by a picture of Podevin’s older brother Philippe flying an airplane through a giant gyroscope.

- CREATIVE RECOLLECTION:  Jean-François Podevin’s latest installation, “Composite Memories,” is free and open to the public, showing through Dec. 16 in room 7170 of the Cuesta College Art Gallery, located on Highway 1 between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay. The artist’s sketchbooks are also available to be pored over and scrutinized—just ask! Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Find more artist info at jfpodevin.com. -
  • CREATIVE RECOLLECTION: Jean-François Podevin’s latest installation, “Composite Memories,” is free and open to the public, showing through Dec. 16 in room 7170 of the Cuesta College Art Gallery, located on Highway 1 between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay. The artist’s sketchbooks are also available to be pored over and scrutinized—just ask! Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Find more artist info at jfpodevin.com.

“He always knew where he was going,” the artist commented. “When I was a kid, he was my compass.” That’s a sharp contrast to Podevin’s boyhood tendency to ride at the back of the train, memorizing where he’d been. The first and final image, pulled from a dream, is that of Podevin’s father, reading French newspaper Le Monde inside the head of the Statue of Liberty, whose eye sockets gaze over the Atlantic.

Viewers are encouraged to make their own conclusions about Podevin’s work. But for him, this particular constellation concerns “travel, destination, direction, and the control we wished we really had over time and space.”

“It’s a good reflection of the whole project, actually,” he said.

New Times Arts Editor Anna Weltner believes order is just chaos waiting to be disassembled. Contact her at aweltner@newtimesslo.com.

 

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