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Illusions of Life


By Glenn Starkey - SLO New Times


Podevin’s Stochasticons Weave Never-Ending, Ever-Changing Stories


Call him the John Cage of visual art. Like the postmodern musical genius, Jean-Francois Podevin uses similar ideas of random selection to create multi-image art word with thousands of possible combinations within a limited realm.


He calls his devices stochasticons, based on the word stochastic (pronounced sta-KAS-tik). which according to Webster’s dictionary means of or pertaining to a process involving a randomly determined sequence of observations, each of which is considered a sample a one element from a probability distribution.


Podevin's current exhibition’s title piece, Lost Oceans/Oceans Perdus, is the sixth in a series of stochasticons based  on the theme of intermittent landscapes and composite memories. It includes 52  images arranged along the themes of travel, time, and memory. Images are viewed in random groups  of four, producing a possible 38,416 combinations




 These combinations trigger different memories and associations in each viewer, in a sense working like Gertrude Stein’s grammarless Poetry in which word combinations and sounds conjure associations unique to each reader.


Podevin also mentions William S. Burroughs’ cutups technique in which the writer cut up pages of words and randomly rearranged the words to create new associations. The idea was that traditional syntax concealed as much as it revealed and that the new combinations of randomly arranged words created previously unsuspected connections and relationships.


I’ve been making by hand sketchbooks and journals for the last 20 years, explains Podevin.  I wanted to make sense of it all, so I started to compare the images, one next to another, and I realized the various groupings of images took on a meaning of their own. I wanted to find a way to show that in a continuum, if you like, different meanings result from different combinations, these groups of pictures made sense.


Each image contains a basic archetypical situation of life, examined in various ways. I was left to find a way of putting these images in any combination of order, so I enlisted the help of my friend, a kinetic sculptor named Leland Means, who helped me to build the machines. So anyway, little by little I came up with these contraptions.


 Podevin’s first stochasticon featured a series of 52 images on several interwoven belts.


In this machine the belts story of weave themselves in an endless fabric, creating a metaphor of weaving as a creative act.


Podevin finds his random method of narration more realistic than traditional linear methods of storytelling.


One of the things that has always fascinated me is storytelling. I remember, as a child,  when someone told me a story, always found the end deceiving and often wished the story would go on forever. I never found a story’s ending, which  I feel is closer to life. Life doesn’t tell itself as a story with a finite ending; it has a floating, fleeting structure of its own that continues on. 


Memory also plays a major role in understanding Podevin’s work. When the Paris-trained artist first moved to the United States from France, he was filled with a sense of longing. So as a way to overcome those feelings he began a sketchbook containing the names of everyone he went to school with while growing up in France.


I felt I was so complete and accurate in my reconstruction of memory. But then something strange happened. I was comparing my memory of an experience with my father and brother who had both shared the experience with me, and each of us remembered it in a different way. I then realized that our memories are often composites.


This sort of revelation shattered my whole conception of a  perfect recollection of  my classmates and I began to wonder how much of my memory is true? That’s why I called my devices ‘Lost Oceans’, as a metaphor to the illusion of memories.


What makes Podevin’s art so unique is its combination of visual art mixed with conceptual. Each image, many of which are being sold separately as prints, is a gem.


Podevin regularly creates illustrations for both Time and Newsweek magazines. The question is, does this conceptual idea of random selection, which he’s repeated in a series of variation, come across as a gimmick, a novelty?


Because of the circle of artists I’m with, in Los Angeles mostly, I never hear those types of criticism. But then I never look at where [my work] stands in the artistic world. To be honest with you, I’m aware that the idea could be a gimmick, but I tell you honestly, I think of these contraptions in an intuitive way. But that’s not my attempt. Like any artist, I make mistakes along the way.


There’s more criticism of the media-computer prints-than the concept of the devices themselves,” Podevin adds, I started oil painting 20 years ago. I’m an illustrator by trade. Now I’m using computer media, which is a threatening media for a lot of artists, unfortunately. In a way, you can imagine the computer having the same effect today that engraving had on the art world when it was invented. Any new technique is at first met with resistance.


Podevin suggests that all the public needs to accept digital art is a little bit of education. For instance, he notes that many considered early digital prints too unstable to last for a long time, but he says newly developed inks can be expected to last as long as 300 years.


"The chemistry nowadays is like it never was in history before.


Everything is of higher quality materials, so the problem of longevity is no longer an issue. I wanted to say also, since I began using computer media-like Photoshop and Painter [software]-these programs allow me to make images and edit in a completely new way, move an element a little to the left or right, and create images in ways I couldn’t conceive of before."


By: Glen Starkey




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