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  • Writer's pictureJean-Francois Podevin


Updated: Oct 12, 2021

Jean-Francois Podevin's Time Machines by Colin Gardner

(continued from part-2)

"Composing memories as explicit dream constructions..."

However, it is on the micro-level of the individual Stochasticon that Podevin’s project most closely resembles the broader structures of language as a whole. The artist is quick to point out that each of the composed images is based on a ‘+’ sign compositional format set against a white ground, which echoes the structural relationship of the postcards to the machine as a whole. If we follow Roman Jakobson’s famous vertical and horizontal model of language formulated in the 1930s, the vertical belts allude to the paradigmatic and metaphorical axis, where each element is selected from a possible inventory of words/images that may be substituted for one another in any given set (in this case by simply turning the machine handle). Roland Barthes illustrated the effects by alluding to the fashion system – shirt, blouse, sweater and t-shirt are simple substitutions for types of top, in the same way that a skirt, pants and shorts are paradigms of bottoms. In contrast, the changing horizontal strip of images across the four belts is an axis of combination or syntagm/metonymy which produces a narrative chain (in fashion, for example, a shoes, skirt, blouse, jacket, hat combination) that is potentially endless in its spatio-temporal extension. It’s no accident that Podevin’s overt arrangement of images into Jakobson’s twin linguistic axes is also applicable to that of mnemic traces in the psyche for, following Jacques Lacan’s argument that the unconscious is structured like a language, we can draw structural equivalences of metaphor and metonymy to forms of condensation and displacement, two of Freud’s key structuring components of the dreamwork.

Podevin’s machines are thus not only analogous to linguistic systems based on langue and parole, but also open interactive invitations to compose memories as explicit dream constructions.

Let us take at random, for example, an array of four Stochasticon images, reading from left to right. We see: 1) Three pairs of naked women’s legs protruding like synchronized swimmers from the ocean between two, semi-anthropomorphic rocks; 2) Three abstracted women at three identical windows; 3) A Madonna and child between two vertical color hue strips entitled ‘The Many Coloured Child’; and 4) Another, ghostly Madonna and child in the center of two interconnecting circles superimposed on a mesh-covered heart. The text above and below the latter reads ‘Obscur Objet Du Désir’, the bottom text inverted like that on a Tarot card. Using a little simple free-association, we might conjure a series of connotations that connects water with birth, women with situations connected to both looking and being looked- the ocean) to that of the Madonna as both a Christian icon and symbol of high Renaissance painting.

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These loose connections are typical of dream logic insofar as they generate a chain of desire (or, more accurately, a desire for desire), but defy definitive semantic closure. However, a simple change of one image - by turning the handle of the far right-hand belt – produces a major paradigm shift: a Coca-Cola bottle centered between two halves of an orange, one in yellow, the other in blue. We’re are now in the world of Pop Art (Andy Warhol’s silkscreens) and advertising culture (specifically photography), reconfiguring the previous female water and iconic motifs in terms of thirst-quenching drinks (“Coke adds life”), phallic erectness, postmodern pastiche and conspicuous consumption. The object of desire is no longer obscure – indeed it is all the more obvious because readily available (as Warhol once put it, ‘A Coke is Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it’). The whole tenor of the narrative chain has been shifted by one simple paradigm shift, and the dreamwork’s logic (and by extension the memories it triggers) has been irrevocably reconfigured.

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This is, of course, highly evocative of Marcel’s Proust’s grapplings with voluntary and involuntary memory in A la Recherche du Temps Perdu and Podevin’s long-term history with this art project has obvious Proustian overtones. In fact, Composite Memories began unconsciously twenty five years ago when Podevin immigrated to the United States from France. Like most émigrés, he was unable to afford regular trips back home so he began to seek out particular places in his adopted country which could act as springboards for constructing childhood memories because of their verisimilitude to the original location and the event that it evoked. He was later able to afford regular trips home and started documenting his visits via journals, sketchbooks, photographs, etc., which later provided the raw material for the Stochasticon postcards. Thus the cosmology of the installation is also a reflection and expression of Podevin’s own childhood memories: the North was where most of his family lived (Lille, Valenciennes, England); West was the direction of sea-side vacations and Podevin’s eventual emigration to the United States; South was the exotic locale of his parents’ dream vacations – Morocco, Italy, Spain, the Sahara; while East evoked night and darkness, whether from having to get up for school in the morning or worrying about the spectre of a Soviet invasion while growing up during the Cold War.

(to be continued in part -4)

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