Fabio Mauri was nineteen years old when he first encountered photographs of German concentration camps. Their incommunicable horror prompted his lifelong inquiry into the treacherous logics of art, ideology, and totalitarianism. On the margins of the Arte Povera movement that dominated Italian art of the 1960s, Mauri’s sculptures, installations, and critical writing preferred to explore history as filtered through the individual. In plays, actions, and interventions deeply indebted to seventeenth-century Jesuit theater and Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty, Mauri used the human body as a medium of revelation and of revolutions.
His installation I numeri malefici (1978) employs human calculation error as grist to reappraise the relationship between humans and history. A chalkboard bearing the mathematical equation pg = g (p)2 (p + a)n is left unanswered; with it, the mathematical promise of higher truth, of a single law unifying the heterogeneity of all human endeavor, remains unfulfilled. More intimate strains of Mauri’s creative life surface in an audio recording of Pier Paolo Pasolini reading his poem La Guinea (first published in 1964). The poem, which was Pasolini’s allegorical lament for rural Italy, becomes Mauri’s elegiac ode to his childhood friend and collaborator, who was murdered in 1975. That loss is evoked in Il Muro Occidentale o del Pianto (The Western Wall or the Wailing Wall) (1993), a four-meter-high wall constructed entirely of suitcases. The sculpture conjures the precious cargo of those who were deported to Auschwitz and of all journeys without return.
In Mauri’s late sculpture Macchina per fissare acquerelli (2009), a ladder stretching to the ceiling arrives abruptly at a thin ledge with the words “THE END” punched through. Having reached the top, little remains but to peer down at the fall that awaits. Mauri labored relentlessly against the seamless absorption of the atrocities of World War II into history’s unwrinkled timeline. Throughout his career he created drawings featuring the words “The End” or, in Italian, “Fine,” emblazoned, scratched, or scrawled across their surfaces. Mauri borrowed the language of film to seize on a perpetual end without finality, one last moment to hold onto before the screen goes black.