Luciano Fabro

The announcement for Luciano Fabro’s exhibition read, “Computers di Luciano Fabro . . . Caramelle di Nadežda Mandel’štam” (Luciano Fabro’s computers . . . Nadezhda Mandelstam’s candies). The two phrases, presented like a book title, were connected by an open ellipsis. Fabro’s hand can be recognized in the subtle and continuous irregular mark that is his signature. It is a line that registers the amplitude of the arm, but also contains a double movement, rising and falling, revealing a relationship.

It is a relationship of love, a love that has tied Fabro to the great Russian poet, Osip Mandelstam, who died in 1938 in a Siberian gulag. Earlier, Fabro included him in one of his largest and most crucial pieces, Iconografie (Iconographies, 1975), that consisted of a long table covered by a white linen tablecloth, supporting a row of glass basins of water. Each basin contained a glass fragment, etched with the name of a historical figure who endured physical violence on account of beliefs held, including Olympia de Gouges, Malcolm X, Mandelstam, and John the Baptist.

The love for Mandelstam now extends to his wife, Nadezhda, whose entire life, from her twenties until her death in 1980, at the age of 81, was marked by her relationship with her husband, with poetry, and with literature. But it was only in 1968 that she was “allowed” to write. Until that time, Nadezhda was forced to hold onto memories. In 1970 the veil was finally torn away with the publication of her first volume of memoirs, Hope Against Hope, in which she could finally express her visions and her opinions on poetry and art.

The primary necessity to give form to language and to visions is the basis of the work of art. Fabro signals this in his Computers (all works 1990). Upon entering, one was confronted by two large letters, “A” and “R,” made of soft white cloth, and stained here and there in pale red, that transcribe the Sanskrit root still intact in words like art and artifice. It is a root that interweaves actions and things, where language finds symbolic form.

The other Computers are made from sections of metal shelving crossed by bunches of colored metal rods and attached with movable joints that allow them to find their own plumb. Fabro gives his own works the magical characteristic of a body that is always capable of variation and renewal.

Nadežda Mandel’štam is a large sculpture in gray marble, roughly triangular in form, with two of its three faces carved. Hung from the wall by a noose, in Fabro’s typical manner, the piece grazed the floor, where a book of Nadezhda’s was placed. Her memories resurface, protected by Fabro’s work, and they speak of both the fatigue engendered by silence and the power of the word that cannot be censored. (The visitor was offered candies wrapped in white paper; the inside of which contained quotes from Nadezhda’s book.)

This exhibition centered on the utterance that finds form even when it is made invisible. When every written word is silenced by censorship, that is the moment when, as Fabro says, “everything is closed off inside the person, in his or her capacity to preserve memory, to cultivate the desire for form. One can kill the person, but this inner voice survives, as one sees with Nadezhda.”

Francesca Pasini

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.