Marcello SestitoTablets


It is an ancient practice, that of making incisions on slabs, daubing graffiti on walls, leaving the mark of expert hands able to transcribe existential messages, magic rituals, mystical evocations, intercessions with the beyond. When, because of lack of materials or geographical position, there are no walls to provide a medium, one alternative has always been to extract slabs or fragments, of papyrus or steles, like the Rosetta Stone that met with the deciphering eye of Champollion.

Where stone is lacking, clay will serve: the tablets of Nippur, with the wedge-like incisions whose impressions document accounts, nominal values, inventories and commercial exchanges, mnemonic tables that predate by millennia Giovanni Fontana’s cipher machines and our binary computer codes.

The practice persists, and the custom of writing on hardened stone and clay continues today. The work of Guido De Zan, fraught with the mnemonic transcription of signs and signals of the unconscious, proceeds along the same uninterrupted path. It is a work of scripture affected by an inner gestuality in which evanescent symbols are set in memory until they verge on becoming improbable ‘personal alphabets’, and where the use of mute letters underscores an introverted musicality bordering on timidity.

A linearity of gesture emphasises the operation: pages of a readerless novel, of an unending programme, of a diary from places of exile. Made rigid by the firing, De Zan’s tablets will not brook correction, they become peremptory, absolute, conserving Koranic messages and/or scriptural paradoxes. They tend towards the elementariness of the sign, convinced that within it lies enclosed the scope of unlimited truth.

Tangles and scrawls, bars and arcs, commas and dots make up the artist’s code. He uses it for this sequence of pages which are nothing if not the fragment of a work which will never be finished, of a test which admits of no digression, correction or interference. It makes one think of the outpourings of an Arab scribe leaving the mark of his passage on a mosque wall, or of the mediaeval monk, patiently copying.

The programme set by De Zan, which tends towards sublimation in craftsmanship and the conquest of artistic territory, also moves forward in the introversion of an alchemist’s laboratory, where the primordial material, the creator’s clay, is modelled and shaped, reacting to the gentle goading that the artist imposes, firmly but delicately. As if the material were regaining its inner religiosity, a sacredness of matter.

Observing the artist at work is a Heideggerian reconciliation of being and things: the hand that shapes, lingers, explores, caresses, impresses without hurt like a tattoo, glides with fingertips, becomes aware of protrusions, depressions, imperfections, leads toward description of laws of behaviour that can only be described on condition that no illicit deciphering be sought.

1993