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  • Writer's pictureJean-Francois Podevin


JEAN-FRANCOIS PODEVIN’s Time Machines By Colin Gardner

Only the signs of art are immaterial. - Gilles Deleuze [i]

It’s highly significant that when Sigmund Freud finally came to describe the spatio-temporal organization of the human psyche (and by extension, the memory traces laid down within it) in the final section of The Interpretation of Dreams, he employed machine-like metaphors, describing the psyche as both a psychic apparatus and as a compound instrument, to the component parts of which we will give the name of “agencies”, or (for the sake of greater clarity) “systems.”’[i][ii]

For Freud, like his contemporary Henri Bergson, the body was a sensory-motor apparatus, a conductor placed between the exterior objects and stimuli which act on it and those which it influences, whereby incoming perceptions are translated into immediate motor actions by the intercession of memories. The latter are called up to receive perceptual input (e.g. a projectile heading your way) and meet it with the mnemic trace of the appropriate motor response (e.g. duck).

What is important for both Freud and Bergson is not how perception arises, but how it is limited, since it should be the image of the whole, and is in fact reduced to the image of that which interests you. [ii][iii] Perception is thus highly selective, editing out from a stream or aggregate of images those which memory deems relevant to the body’s immediate motor needs. It is therefore memory that gives perception its subjective character and it is, for this reason, highly constructive in nature.

In his latest installation - Composite Memories (2004) – Jean-François Podevin has taken Freud’s metaphors to heart, translating and reconstructing the mnemic traces of the psychic system into a series of seven free-standing, interactive sculptural ‘machines’ that he has called ‘Stochasticons’ or ‘display contraptions’ that evoke the postcard dispensers commonly found in tourist shops or airports.

Each machine is of equal dimensions – (96” high, by 60” wide, by 14” deep) containing four canvas belts placed side by side. Each belt is overlaid by fourteen, postcard-like memory-images (10” by 7.25”) which can be rotated individually by four handles placed in pairs at the sides of the contraption, thus allowing the spectator to change the combination (and thus connection) of pictures to form a wide variety of different narrative and spatio-temporal permutations. A thin horizontal fiberglass rule allows the viewer to align the postcards in a single row of four, much like the horizontal chain of symbols on a one-armed bandit slot machine .

(to be continued in Composite Memories part 2 )

[i] Gilles Deleuze, Proust and Signs, trans. Richard Howard, New York: George Braziller,1972, p. 39

[ii] Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. James Strachey, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1991, p. 685.

[iii} Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, trans. Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer, New York: Zone Books, 1991, p. 40.

[iv] Deleuze, Proust and Signs, p. 56.

[v] Ibid, p. 25.

[vi] Ibid, p. 41

(continue to part-2)

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