I will argue that, to a certain extent, we want to identify architecture in Otto Zitko’s drawings, and particularly in his space drawings. Hence, the first part of my contribution will deal with modernity in relation to drawing and architecture, and from there, I will move on to a second stage, in which I will seek to trace the reversal of this relation between line and space in Otto Zitko’s oeuvre.
To describe the relation between space and drawing, or space and line, for that matter, it seems appropriate to delve into mathematics. If we want to find the volume of a cube, we only need to know the length of one side, which is the length of its edge. Given a cube with an edge that is 3 cm long, we only have to multiply length by width and height: 3 cm x 3 cm x 3 cm = 27 cm3.
The result of 27 cm3 is the volume of our cube. What appears as space here is, in mathematical terms, the outcome of knowing the edge length or, if you like, the product of lines being multiplied with each other. What appears as space is the relation between lines. Space is nothing but the product of lines. This applies to a cube as it does to the architecture of a building, which can be reduced to lines. Someone who wants to design a house will take a pencil and a sheet of paper, and draw lines in relation to each other: ground plan, elevation, cutaway view etc. The lines relating to each other precede the space to be built. And even in the process of building, lines will be used all the time to align the materials: the plumbline here, the chalk line and the drawing on the ground for the caterpillar there. What appears as architecture is the product of drawn lines which evoke space.
To identify the volume of built-up space, the eyes need lines delineating space for orientation: the length and height of walls, the openings of doors and windows, the distances between floors and ceilings etc. What appears as space reveals itself as the product of lines. These lines merely surround areas which are brought into relation with each other, promising spaces in between. Thus, the experience of space would simply be a way of tracking what these lines promise, and depending on the point of view, the promise will refer to an exterior or interior.
Exterior and interior are merely separated by a line. Different sets of rules apply on either side of the line, each associated with a promise of space. Modernity and the autonomy of art it demanded led to an idea of space reserved for art and serving the purposes of art only. Free from all dependencies and representation claims raised by others, art was to be presented in a space built for art alone. This idea of a space for art resulted in the »White Cube«, a cube the qualities of which were reduced to the greatest possible extent so as to ensure concentration on the exhibits, whilst at the same time making the exterior disappear: a pure interior revealing itself as the most neutral environment possible from the angle of art, but ultimately remaining outside of it. What appears as an interior is merely a space outside of art: an interior qua exterior. The idea of neutral institutionalized spaces for art was outlined in modernity and has survived until today in spite of many critical interventions. Most art institutions and their exhibition spaces conform with this image. Even if the walls become transparent and take on the shape of glass panes, the marks of lines and linear geometry continue to pertain. White Cube, Glass Cube, Cube.
In his book Inside the White Cube, Brian O’Doherty outlined the development of this white space for art and he also dealt with the emergence of an art that gradually expands into this space, eventually merging with the white cube, which thus becomes art itself. (1) In other words: The building meant to house art was to become a work of art itself. In this context, I think it is important to add that these white cubes of modernity were also a way of reducing space to basic geometrical shapes by architectural means. The reduction of material substance and the language conforming with it makes the geometry underlying these spaces all the clearer. And the effect which the lines preceding it have in the planning process seems to be closely related to this geometry of three-dimensional shapes. (2) We could say that the architectural language which developed along with the White Cube and modernity tends to allow for a glimpse through the material substance of the building, opening up a view of the plans and lines underlying it. The empty white exhibition spaces seem to translate a drawing into a material assertion of space. Unadorned walls, smooth surfaces, straight lines. Elaborating any further on the history of modern architecture and the White Cube would carry me too far here; suffice it to suggest that the decision in favor of straight lines in modern architecture sheds light on the meaning of the line itself and thus on the meaning of spaces emphasizing their own linearity. The straight line – regardless of whether it is a line drawn on a piece of paper or the edge of a wall or cube – makes any idea of individuality recede to the background, objectifying it, and from there creates an ambiance for the subject who then appears to be the only individual in it. Based on this, linearity becomes a foil to provide contrast for the subject. Implicitly, linearity contains an element of generality which runs ahead of the subject from the perspective of modernity. The paradox here is that such generality runs ahead of every subject while the individual subject appearing in this context is but an exchangeable variable. Modern architecture thus places the subject in the center of attention just like a work of art, declaring it to be equally exchangeable. What applies to the work of art in the white exhibition space – which will be replaced by another work of art in the next display – also applies to the subject that becomes exchangeable. The white exhibition space pleads in favor of an indifferent relation to the works on display and eventually to the public, which becomes exchangeable, too. Although this indifference is incredibly emancipatory and democratic at heart, it also reflects the universalistic phantasma of modernity and its concept of art. Marcel Duchamp cut right to the chase with his ready-mades as he identified the powerful mechanism of cause and effect which links the indifferent white exhibition space and the phantasma of modernity. It was enough to disengage an every-day object from its function, furnish it with all the trappings of a work of art, and place it in an institutional framework to expose the ideological functions of art institutions. What was true of the ready-made was true of the institution, which did not so much represent an architectural space but the idea of an institution taking shape in three dimensions. The art institution of modernity can be compared with the ready-made and the every-day object for which an idea and a title had to be found, inasmuch as it was a space for which an idea and a title had to be found, too. What appears as space is more the appearance of an idea qua space – or, if you like, the three-dimensional structure of an idea, a space drawing. At this point, it is essential to state that this paradigm of modernity, the approach whereby architectural space is thought of as a built space drawing, remains linked with the white exhibition space as an incunabulum – irrespective of how modern or historical the surrounding architecture may be. In other words: modernity and its concept of space helped develop a perspective of spatial perception which always also recognizes the underlying space drawing in architecture, and likewise identifies the translation from drawn plan to three dimensions as space. Walls, ceilings, windows and even vistas are not only the product of drawings made beforehand, they also stand for drawings – drawings disguised as architecture. The function allocated (living space, exhibition space etc.) was only another disguise so as to minimize the impression that those were space drawings and hence concepts of space rather than buildings. What follows is significant for our context: If in modernity, built space drawings are at the heart of the matter, then space can only be thought of as a product of lines. These lines evoke spaces, promise spaces which must be understood in a linear sense, just like the concept of time in modernity is linear – qua teleology. These spaces promise an objective which they embody and refer to the future at the same time. There, the space of modernity will be a space of announcement, a site of promise entertaining ambivalent relations with itself: present and absent at the same time – imaginary by nature. The thing to learn from this angle is a way of looking at drawing, or to be more precise, at the line, in modernity.
In modernity the line does not actually mark an incision into space or an assumed delimitation of a space or a surface, it is in fact what evokes the space or surface itself. Whoever, in modernity, uses one hand to draw a line will find that the other hand has already moved over to the space promised by the line. What looks like a drawing implies the space waiting to be shaped on the basis of the drawing. This inclination of the line toward an imaginary space actually forms its political core, if you like: The drawing is the instrument to map the promise of politics implied in modernity. In truly teleological style, modernity thinks of the present only as a moment of transition to the future it is headed for – as an announcement thereof, and thus as a sketch by nature. What it has executed is meant to be a model. And it is precisely the artistic and political insistence on a sketchy present, on the model character and drawing of the present which led to the infinite postponement of its objectives and a certain blindness to the not-so-model-like consequences it produced along with the drawing. At least, the crisis of modernity and its promises forms the historical backdrop of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the years when Otto Zitko’s works began to emerge.
There are highly informative texts describing Otto Zitko’s move from works on classic vehicles to expansion into space.(3) They argue that the expansion of drawing into three dimensions should be considered an engagement of the subject with reality in real space. However, I beg to differ as I juxtapose this with an alternative thesis: I think what we can discern in Otto Zitko’s drawings is a line critical of ideology, turning against the promises of modernity. Thus, the liberation of line and drawing from their imaginary core, from their being called upon to promise something, such as a space they might evoke, is up for discussion.
As I have associated modernity and the White Cube with the exchangeability of the subject and the works of art represented in it, the lines characteristic of Zitko’s works, by themselves, seem to be an evident plea in favor of an individualized subject manifesting itself. If you have seen a Zitko drawing, you will be able to recognize his style wherever it may be. Located at the other end of the scale from rectilinearity, the lines move and describe curves that can be followed and seen as subject to decisions entailing a change in direction, an unexpected course corrections, they are full of imponderabilities, surprises and discoveries. Following a Zitko line on its trajectory over surfaces and through spaces is like reading a travelog. Seen from this perspective, his drawings are adventurous, literally speaking. And due to the various spectra of drawing juxtaposed and confronted in his works, the travelogs do not reflect the traveler’s sensitivities at the given moment but a well-planned and clearly structured journey offering orientation amidst a mélange of events. Orientation is not so much needed to clarify spatial structures, it actually aims at a subject expressing insistence in space and time. Although the architectural axes are toyed with, concealed, distorted and refracted by means of the lines, they still, and manifestly so, speak of an individual at work here. Every inch insists on the subjective which clearly stands out from the imaginary generality of space. Zitko’s lines do not evoke space or confirm it in its presumed subjectivity, they declare the subject itself to be an authority in space and time. He confronts the subject’s space and time with the ideas of space and objective promised in anticipation by the institution or its architecture. If there is anything his lines aim at, it is the signature of a subject going its way, moving on, to again confirm that it was here whenever it is given an opportunity, in the next space, on the next vehicle. Unmistakably so, and irrespective of the variations in the direction and pace of the journey.
The way in which trajectories and speeds diverge is a constituent element in the idea that the subject is manifesting itself. Like a traveler, this subject moves through spaces and moments to be exposed to them. What becomes evident here is not so much a way of invoking the trait of interiority, which also pertains to modernity and disregards everything expressionistically and critically of culture, it is a plea in favor of a form of dialog which always confirms ongoing negotiations. These negotiations are about models of worldviews. Zitko’s arguments make it clear that the concepts of space and time nurtured by modernity and the policies of announcement and promise linked with them are not viable for him. Zitko’s lines brace themselves against the imaginary spaces of modernity in which the modern subject is nothing but an exchangeable variable. His drawings are organized in such a way that they ensure points of contact between the spaces and override the architectural principle that there has to be a sequence of rooms: A line seems to end at the wall edge but, depending on the beholder’s perspective, it is taken up again by another line in the adjacent room, and carried on. The principle of the subject, represented by a room here, also applies to the beholder as a subject who has to move along these lines and thus creates individualized space him/herself. The conditions subject to which the lines are aligned equally apply to the way in which they are looked at. At the beginning and the end of the lines (in the temporal sense), there are subjects literally subjecting themselves to a journey.
The fact that Zitko organizes his drawings in space and on surfaces like pictures also reflects his acknowledgement of the conventions of a genre. The pictural element in his drawings is the last reminder of the history of his medium, which conveyed itself via pictures. When we think of a drawing, we associate it with the idea of a picture. Zitko’s space drawings carry the concept of what can still be called a picture to extremes. The classical position of the beholder-subject in front of the picture is suspended. We are no longer confronted with a drawing in the actual sense, but with one that seems to have no beginning or ending. Once we have set out on a journey along the lines he has drawn, we will find that it does not end where the surfaces or spaces end. Endings are transient, temporary, the line will be taken up and continued in the next work. Pictures or space drawings could reflect the nature of a completed work but this is undermined by the principle of temporality. The insistence on a work oriented solely on the autobiographical continuation of a signature of the subjective becomes evident in the space drawings since they are painted over at the end of the exhibition and relegated to invisibility as they descend into the depth of history. The only thing that remains is the mere experience of a subject exposed to these pleas for a here and now for some time. Whatever it is that becomes visible, it is a snippet of time, a temporary trace.
With this in mind, bringing the works of the past ten years together in a book like this means more than publishing a catalog of retrospective character. In Zitko’s case such a book is more like a calendar, a diary or travelog. What lies before you is in a certain sense a clock ticking away the time in very unconventional rhythm, measuring moments just like years, days and weeks. Unlike modern teleology and its promise of a timeline, the calendar refrains from forecasts, prognoses or announcements. The timeline is open and will not listen to reason. It is equally familiar with repetition and experiment, difference and adventure.
This mélange of pictures in and of time is a stranger to straightforwardness. This makes Otto Zitko a child of his times, someone who belongs to the generation after modernity, if you like. However, unlike many of his contemporaries, Zitko did not respond to the refusal to maintain the heritage of modernity by quoting from a wide variety of historical genres. Instead, he attempted to turn an institutionalized and established genre such as drawing against the institution itself without losing sight of the genre. Zitko succeeded in extricating drawing from the style of modernity, from imaginary spatiality, and – paradoxical as this may sound when we talk about space drawings – in using them against these spaces so as to claim their temporal dimension, their autobiographical element, as a yardstick for the subject. The fact that the space drawings create an impression of multi-dimensional environments as they engage in a dialog with existing three-dimensional space basically turns them into architectural structures. Hence, the thesis that Zitko should therefore be considered a drawer and an architect is not at all far-fetched. Unlike his predecessors in modernity, who unearthed the imaginary character of these spaces and the promises they make in drawn architecture, Zitko puts architecture back into drawing. Zitko’s plans represent contemporary architecture. Along with steel, glass, concrete and wood, drawings become building materials for a subject setting out not to inhabit spaces but to relentlessly inscribe into the world traces and signatures which are committed to time rather than the idea of mechanisms of inclusion or exclusion. There is no interior or exterior in Zitko’s architectures. They have shed the building, the institution that appeared to house them. They are parasites, living off a host and devouring it at the same time. What they leave behind is the indigestibility of the subject. You can paint over it again and again, but you will not be able to remove it from history.
1 See O’Doherty, Brian: Inside the White Cube. The Ideology of the Gallery Space, San Francisco 1986.
2 See Schmarsow, August: „…der Machtspruch der Einbildungskraft richtet Wände auf, wo nur Striche sind…die angedeuteten Grenzen nähern sich immer mehr der graden Linie…“ [“…the power of imagination will erect walls where there is nothing but lines ….the suggested boundaries come ever closer to the straight line…”]. Schmarsow, August: “Das Wesen der architektonischen Schöpfung“ (1893). In: Dünne, Jörg/Günzel, Stephan (ed.): Raumtheorie. Grundlagentexte aus Philosophie und Kulturwissenschaften, Frankfurt am Main 2006, p. 471.
3 See e.g. Kravagna , Christian: “The Subject of Space Drawing“. In: Loock, Ulrich: Otto Zitko. Räume, Ed., Kunsthalle Bern, Bern 1996.
This text was published in: Otto Zitko – The Construction of Gesture, Hemma Schmutz, Barbara Steiner, Ingeburg Wurzer (Ed.), Berlin 2008, ps. 110–114.