Otto Zitko or the Birth of the Object from Graphism

Peter Weibel

Motor function and graphism are two primary sources of expression. We have found bones engraved with tight curves or series of notches, small stone or wood tablets with spirals, straight lines or clusters of dots dating back to times 35,000 years ago. These oldest examples of rhythmical expression also include graphism in one and the same dynamic process. Did the symbols relate to hunting or book-keeping, or were they used to support incantations or declamations? In view of their abstract character, we tend to believe that abstraction is at the root of graphical expression.

However, the abstract sequence of lines and dots is subject to an urge to shape and design. Motor function comes with an intention to move rhythmically, graphism seeks form, and in the process, rhythm is shape in time, and form is shape in space. The urge, the intentionality both have to do with the tool that creates the notches and circles on stone, bone and wood – the hand. In turn, the mode of action of the hand has to do with gripping. Groping, twisting, reaching, pushing, these are characteristic movements of the hand. As their purpose is the act of gripping things, arms and hands are equipped with bones and muscles which turn them into tools – hence they have mechanical characteristics. The merely rhythmical motor function of the fingers and hands ends in the pre-programmed process of clutching something, be it a piece of food or another being, be it for the purpose of consumption or communication. Due to its mechanical character, the hand combines gesture and tool, and what seems to be merely abstract graphism is also pre-programmed to lead up to representational shapes. Rhythmical sequences of lines and dots created by motor function become abstract curves, spirals, circles, which then turn into representations of humans, animals, objects. As the osteo-muscular equipment of the hand determines its gestural possibilities and this technical gesture is closely linked with gripping (objects), the birth of the object from graphism is quasi pre-programmed in evolution.

In Zitko’s art, we sense how difficult it is to make graphism give birth to the object. Zitko seeks to remain in the darkness of the graphical for as long as possible. He wants to stay close to the origin of the graphical and delays the birth of the object to the point of refusal. In fact, Zitko disrupts the pre-programmed process of development from the graphical to representation, returning again and again to the source and only arriving at the object on winding roads with complicated detours; this is not just a way of putting up resistance, it is a way of putting up a fight. If you seek to leave the object unborn, you are defying the osteo-muscular capabilities of the hand, and thus technical-mechanical gestures. Zitko wants to free the gesture from the tool, separate the hand and its mechanical characteristics. The nervous, nervy, infantile, unskilful, unrestrained, psychopathic nature of Zitko’s graphism has its roots in the fact that he does not want to bow to anything, neither the sleekness of technical gesture, nor the mechanics of an osteo-muscular tool, neither the object nor society. If you attack the grasping for the object, you reject the reduction that comes with the graphical, you seek to develop the gestural, move on beyond the mechanical towards the spiritual, look for states in which one is seized with awe. In the corrida of the graphical, the object spells death and victory is a state of being seized with awe, and Zitko wants to live, even if the will to live already fades when the second “I” is written. If you leave the object unborn, strive for the state of being unborn, you only seemingly seek to learn how to die; in reality, you are looking for a different life than the objectified, commercialised, mechanical, narrow and limited life which society holds in store for you. Zitko’s rhythmical graphism is thus an incantation whereby he wants to be lifted into an original state (of ecstasy, of liberty) via the origin of the graphical. The exposedness of his graphism leads to resistance against the state as it relegates the human being to the position of a mere tool. His multi-dimensional graphism transcends the grasp and does not bow to any coercion (be it formal or societal in nature), any programming – it seeks to take dimensional liberties. The danger that comes with remaining in a state of birth, expressed by the motor function of the hand at birth – is to stay on the threshold between life and death, and it can be overcome by the same means by which the mechanical function of the hand can be transcended, i.e. the new dimensional possibilities of gesture and mind. Zitko’s art revolves around the origin of the graphical and the birth of the object from graphism, in imploring, melancholic pictures nicked with lines, strokes, marks and figures which were placed in complex layers because he does not yet feel entrapped, surrounded by a mechanical world of solid objects, and because the shapes of objects do not yet restrict expression, emotions, needs, sensations, because this is where he believes the source of original life to be. If you leave the object unborn or hardly allow it to enter the world, as something opaque at best, you do not want to limit experience. If you want to expand gestural possibilities beyond representational forms, you are invoking an uncontained, unrestricted life.

Zitko’s art reminds us of the fact that human needs transcend the world of solid objects, that the forms of objects must not limit experience and cognition because this is precisely where they come from.

This transcendent longing is expressed in the drawing of the man - weighed down, oppressed, lying on the ground – whose arm reaches out for the winged creature, grasping for the bird which is free, agile, in flight, on the escape.

If melancholy leads to such weakness that it even lacks the energy and courage to present itself, it has reached a limit and borderline. Zitko’s graphism is doing a tightrope walk on that borderline. His graphical gestures tell us of despair and rage, his lines are messages from the physical journeys through joints, tendons, muscles and nerves. He gets lost in a maze of lines and colours. His drawings are borderline shapes. If colours are long-lasting explosions, Zitko’s colours are underground explosions, fires which the water of melancholy can hardly put out. As the forms of objects are not the shapes of the borderline, he is able to submerge and return to the source, the origins. He returns, without mask, with colours that are not just a front to hide behind, with forms that have no limits.

This text was published in: Otto Zitko, Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Catalogue, Ghent, 1984. Reproduced by kind permission of the author.