Italia d'oro (Golden Italy) is the most iconic and memorable work in a celebrated series of important sculptures known as the Italie (Italys). Begun in 1968 and perpetuated by the artist at various junctures over the next decade, the Italie collectively form one of the most pivotal and important series in Fabro's eclectic oeuvre. Each Italia marks a significant and distinctive development in Fabro's ongoing questioning and exploration of conventional attitudes towards the object by using the map of Italy in a variety of new and surprising ways. The form that each Italia takes is largely dependent on the material that the artist has used to make the work. Employing a wide range of very different materials from a road map to copper, lead and glass, Fabro's material transformation of the immediately recognisable and clearly identifiable image of the map of Italy opens to question conventional and accepted notions about iconography and national identity. On another level, this material manipulation of an iconic image also explores one of the artist's central themes, the inherently symbiotic relationship that seems to exist between form and material.
Fabro's first Italie were made in 1968 and 1969 during the years of student revolt in Italy and, unsurprisingly, were immediately interpreted as being in some way political statements. Indeed, for Fabro's 1969 exhibition at the Galleria de Nieubourg in Milan, a street poster was printed reproducing many of the hanging Italie (in which, as in Italia d'oro, the map of Italy is suspended upside-down). Due to the tense political atmosphere of the time, the poster was immediately banned from being displayed in public. This banned poster was later exhibited as part of the "Information" exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1970.
Fabro's immediate aim in suspending the map of Italy upside-down was not primarily a politically subversive act however, even though the artist was clearly aware of the political ramifications of his actions. Fabro's primary concern as so often had been with formal considerations and with opening to question the mental associations that the viewer held towards such an iconic and recognisable image and with their own notion of Italy and with what it meant to be an Italian. The suspension of Italy by its "toe" - the Calabrian peninsula - was, for Fabro, both a deliberate subversion of the normal 'iconographic' conditions of the map and a practical solution to its formal structure. Even though this inversion inevitably provokes the political sensibilities of the viewer - bringing to mind the age-old division and political struggle between the predominantly industrial North and the more rural South of the country, and also perhaps with the famous image of the dead Mussolini and his mistress hanging upside-down in Milan Piazzale Loreto - Fabro's aim with the Italie was to encourage the viewer to move beyond the map's iconography and its provocation of such associations towards a wider consideration of the purely formal aspects of the outline of the country. "Form is contemporaneous," he explained, "it is of the same time as its creator. Iconography comes from behind, it is the impulse which drives its creator and is the impulse which the creator hurls back. However much it may appear to the contrary, my Italie are linked by a very slender thread to Iconography; also because the image of Italy is inferred, graphic. This is the reason for choosing a refraction of the form moving towards infinity. Italy is an image for whoever feels in some way bound to it, whose shape is seen as a graphic of ideas. But for me form remains the transmigration of the material. Form is like a pause inside the transformation. To be more precise I have always accompanied this ideological and symbolic negation with titles more cheerful than conceptual." ("Luciano Fabro: Vademecum" cited in exh. cat., Luciano Fabro, Edinburgh, 1997, p. 175.)
Italia d'oro was executed in 1971 and was immediately recognised and subsequently used by Fabro as the centrepiece of his Italie series. Cast in gilded bronze, Italia d'oro presents the familiar outline of Italy as a unique and finite golden form. Using a relief map of the country, the work displays only the outward form of an idea (Italy) that has enormous influence on the cultural and national sense of identity for many people. With the cast metal outlines and contours of Sicily and Sardinia fixed to the back of the map of the Italian mainland, Fabro has created in this elegant and deceptively simple work an iconic image that questions the very idea of Italy. The suspension of the Italian peninsula by its "toe" in the middle of an empty space clearly suggests an inversion of the norm and perhaps an intention on the artist's part to subvert or at least lessen the sense of grandeur and importance that is normally associated with this familiar icon of Italy. "Italia d'oro is cast in gilded bronze" Fabro has explained; "Gold is an excellent cover-up for any form. A hanging form is never very authoritative." (L. Fabro, "Vademecum", in exh. cat., Luciano Fabro, Barcelona, 1990.)
At the same time, Fabro's use of gold in this work undoubtedly also refers to the mercantile history of Italy, to the idea of a golden and sacred homeland that was often built up by the countries' rich and the powerful rulers in order to instil in the common man a notion of nationhood and of patriotism as a means of inducing him to fight on their behalf. At a 1975 exhibition of the Italie entitled by Fabro 'Coreografia' ('Choreography') at the Christian Stein Gallery in Turin, Fabro used Italia d'oro as the focal point of the Italie series which was installed in a specially redesigned interior. All the previous Italie along with two new ones, L'Italia del dolore (Italy of Pain) and L'Italia dei pupi (Puppet Italy) were arranged around a tunnel with Italia d'oro placed at the centre of the installation. On this occasion each Italia was accompanied by an appropriate text which Fabro, by way of a joke, had had signed by various old schoolfriends in order to make it look as if the text was part of their cultural recollections of Italy. Clearly referring to the role of money and power in the creation of the idea of nationhood, the caption for Italia d'oro read:
"The wild animals that live in Italy have their lairs; each one of them has a bedding place or a hiding place. Only the men who fight and die for Italy can count on nothing except air and light; with wives and children, they live on the streets, or rather on a field. The generals lie when, before battles, they exhort the soldiers to defend their hearthsides and ancestors' tombs from the enemy because most of the Romans don't have a hearth and no one has a tomb for their ancestors. They must shed blood and die only for the riches and glory of others. They are called the owners of the earth, but they can't claim to own one single clump of sod.
Degano, Oralia, n.n. ('non noto' [not known]). (Cited in exh. cat., Luciano Fabro, Turin, 1975.)
This text clearly points to the artificiality of this kind of concept of Italy and to the inherent lies that are contained within conventional patriotism. At the same time, the work itself - by visually asserting the intrinsic relationship that exists in all things between their form and the material of which they are made - does nevertheless suggest that the familiar outline of Italy, has, ultimately, been defined and determined by its own innate Italianness. And, it is this more fundamental sense of Italy that Fabro wishes to awaken in the viewer.