STATE OF THE ART AND MIND
A multimedia exhibition by Jean-Francois Podevin
Loyola Marymount University, William H. Hannon Library
Aug 31st to Oct 12th 2012
Posted: Thursday, September 6, 2012 1:00 am
| Updated: 11:47 pm, Wed Sep 5, 2012.
French artist explores memory in new exhibit
Tierney Finster, A&E Editor Los Angeles Loyolan
(see PDF version of the Loyolan Sept-06-2012)
The past fades into the present and disappears in the future,” reads one of the 365 postcard-like paintings in Jean-Francois Podevin’s “State of the Art and Mind” exhibit, currently on display at the William H. Hannon Library.
The notions of time and memory are key to the show, which functions as a colossal display of the personal work that the French artist has completed since moving to California over 30 years ago. Most notably, “State of the Art and Mind” features “Composite Memories,” Podevin’s seven-piece set of stand-alone sculptural machines. Podevin refers to the machines as “stochasticons,” and explained in his address at the exhibit’s opening last Friday that the term represents “an infinite number of possibilities within finite limits.”
The stochasticons contain four painting-adorned, canvas panels that can be rotated individually to combine each of the 28 total paintings in a variety of ways across a horizontal axis.
Viewers are left with the opportunity to form the pairings, and thus the perceived narratives of the paintings, for themselves. While the seven stochasticons are each titled with a unifying theme, such as “Fiat Lux,” “Let There Be Light” and “On the Beach,” the 365 stochasticon images represent an incredibly diverse range of experiences and artistic style over time. “Each image is a painting in itself. Each painting is a statement,” Podevin said. “By putting them in the machine, I change their meaning.”
Largely personal, Podevin’s self portraits, along with images of his wife and sons, can be found throughout the machines. A series of four photos of a white minivan lines one painting. Embedded in folds of cool, ambient color, one’s memories are evoked while also taking in someone else’s surreal home movie. Other pieces resemble travel journals: a luscious garden scene reads, “Wish you were here;” the head of the Statue of Liberty hangs amidst a field of stark white space; ocean oases repeatedly tantalize. Perhaps most intimate are the apparent representations of Podevin’s own mental grappling, as he explores creation across an array of belief systems in “Fiat Lux” and the notions of unyielding permanence and union in “Instance of Eternity.”
“I’m fascinated by the multiplicity of ideas about something like creation,” Podevin said. “Some images complete each other, but others contradict in ways that raise questions.” It is important to note that each of these individual paintings, along with all of the objects in the show, relates to one of the artist’s own composite memories. “Memories are functional in order to deal with certain situations,” Podevin explained. The moments captured in “Composite Memories” carry a sustained pleasure or burden of some sort, and thus call for creative transfiguration in order to move toward a place of closure. Podevin admits, “The real trick is to forget.”
He doesn’t seem to have forgotten much over the years, thanks to the 200 journals he has kept over the last three decades. These books contain both sketches and text and were used as source materials for the exhibition as a whole. Podevin estimates that the books contain over 16,000 drawings, and in introducing the sketchbooks as part of “State of the Art and Mind,” he writes that the collection is “a formless web of information whose expression is meaningful.”
“No part is kept in chronological order since I began in 1974, strong of the belief that as an artist, I should be able to one day express an ‘eternal present.’ ... They [the notebooks] represent a rhizome network in which, at each perceived intersection, there can be formed a synaptic connection: an ‘Instance of Eternity,’” Podevin wrote for the show.
One individual tracking Podevin’s quest for the eternal present is Colin Gardner, a professor of critical theory and interdisciplinary media at UC Santa Barbara. Gardner and Podevin met around 1977, when Podevin contributed a few freelance illustrations for “Synapse,” an electronic music magazine for which Gardner also worked.
“I was an instant fan of him,” Gardner recounted at Friday’s opening. Gardner frequently uses his knowledge as a critical theorist to contextualize and examine Podevin’s work. Gardner delivered an impressive lecture at the show on Friday in which he traced the similarities between the art, language as a whole and the human brain.
“The structural methodology of the machines is exactly the same as that of language,” Gardner said, calling upon Roman Jakobson’s model of language. Jakobson explains language as having an axis of combination – the structural stringing together of words – and axis of selection, the specific word choices we make that propel the “forward flow” of words. If we think of the axis of combination as a specific sentence structure, the axis of selection is what gives different meanings to sentences formed with the same logic. “I am ecstatic” differs from “I was ecstatic,” just as “I was miserable” differs from “She is miserable.” Minor changes in the two axes create account for completely different end results and impressions.
“Changed through the axis of selection, this structure can be applied to any scenario,” Gardner said. The images in “Composite Memory” certainly function this way. Gardner refers to each machine as a “series of narratives” that allows for the “infinite possibility of continuation, the same way language always does.”
Rather than choose a limited number of images to share with us, Podevin’s stochasticons allow us as spectators to choose the narrative content of the image machines with a simple turn of their handles. Like with language, we posseses an unlimited number of attempts to form new meanings based on the combinations we choose within the four-paneled structure of the machines. Gardner demonstrated this during his lecture by showing how changing just one of the images in a row transformed the group’s overall meaning, taking the sequence from a woman’s pagan to Christian journey to “the equalization of women as commodities.”
In his lecture, Gardner related this model of language to Jacques Lacan’s model of the unconscious, further linking Podevin’s work to the various states of our own minds. Lacan believed that the latent content of our real lives is transformed into dream by the mental axes of displacement and condensation, which follow a structure similar to that of language. “Turning Podevin’s handles is the equivalent of a new form of displacement,” Gardner remarked. Like while dreaming, we as spectators cannot completely account for the motivations behind our chosen combinations. A larger force, our creative unconscious, seeks the images that somehow touch upon our own emotional needs or past.
“You are driven by the need of motor continuity. We desire connections and forming them gives meaning to our own personal memories and images,” Gardner said.“The purpose is to create your own narrative,” Podevin said. Gardner also spoke on our authorship as an audience. “You become the artist in the very act of working with and transforming the work. ... You the audience is as much a producer of the meaning as Jean Francois is.”
While the freestanding stochasticons are key players in Podevin’s show, “State of the Art and Mind” contains a variety of other images and stochasticon objects. Much of the work on display is part of Podevin’s traveling show, which event organizer Dr. Stephanie August, associate professor of the LMU electrical engineering and computer science department, first saw at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, Calif. However, “State of the Art and Mind” always contains the artist’s brand new work. One such work is “Tetric Landscapes,” a series of composite sketches from Podevin’s drives down the California coast. “Tetric Landscapes” is also highly interactive, enabling the viewer to recall and form his or her own memory images of drives down the coast as a lens distorts the pictures, giving the images the same fleeting feel Podevin felt when staring out the window from the passenger seat during these drives.
“Some of these are mere brush strokes which look like landscape in the context of it all,” Podevin explained. Gardner refers to “Tetric Landscapes” and Podevin’s work as a whole as employing a “profound cinematic kind of language” and references the famous Lev Kuleshov experiment in film editing in his discussion of the landscapes. This so-called Kuleshov experiment emphasized juxtaposition of images and how it changes the meaning of said images.
Podevin’s cinematic ideology is no surprise. In a world of the niche, the multifaceted artist is well-versed in both acrylic and oil painting, photography, computer illustration and other techniques. Carm K. Goode, a former LMU professor who has known Podevin since the late ‘70s, said that he is still amazed by the artist’s “incredible range and skill.”
“He’s the only person I know who can collage, paint, photograph or just sketch the same thing and have it be just as good in each form,” Goode said.
Podevin called himself “interdisciplinary” in his artistic approach, which makes his work a perfect fit for August’s larger project: “Operation STEAMroller: A Festival of Many Disciplines,” of which “State of the Art and Mind” is included. The interdisciplinary connection was also cemented during Gardner’s lecture, during which he explored the similarities between artists and scientists with Podevin and the audience.
Like scientists, “Artists answer questions that haven’t been raised yet,” Gardner stated, citing Einstein’s Theory of Relativity as an example.
Camille Kolodziejski, a junior history major, commented on the accessibility of the project. “Making the exhibit interactive allows for everyone to be involved, and for far beyond the opening night,” she said. “There is such a range to the work that anyone, regardless of what they’re studying, can find something of interest in it.”
“State of the Art and Mind” is a truly astounding display of multidisciplinary intelligence and artistic prowess. From the fascinating content, subjectively intriguing means of display and its powerful surrounding discourse, this show warrants a second visit. It will run on the third floor of the Library until Oct. 12, giving spectators plenty of opportunities to turn the stochasticons’ handles for second and third times.
This is the opinion of Tierney Finster, from Los Angeles, Calif. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.