The splendour of the body

“The human species survives only because man has the instinct of self preservation.
If men did not desire food or feel sexual desire, the species would come to an end forthwith.
The senses of taste and touch are therefore the senses most necessary to the life of the individual and the species.
The others are [only] a help.”
Olindo Guerrini

Nowadays the importance of the body and the senses in all aspects of the human experience is fully recognised and given serious consideration. As such intelligence is no longer considered only to reside in the brain but rather in the indissoluble complex of the body and mind. It is this complex which feels, lives and communicates. For example the particular type of communication expressed in story telling (an essential
activity for human kind). This is not done with the head, nor with the heart, the hands or the eyes: story telling is achieved using all the body and mind. Every act of communication, writing or narration is a global act of the body-mind of the narrator, which at the same times calls into action the entire body-mind of the listener. Intelligence is not only made of rationality, rather it is woven together, inextricably tangled with emotions and feelings.
The body is thus the centre and generator of every activity, an unbreakable pillar of our identity, depository and guarantor of our most fundamental and vital rights: food, sex, life itself. Everything happens in the body, with the body and for the body. One is born and one dies with a body, with the body one suffers, endures and enjoys, life is generated with the rapid action of the body, the body acts to maintain itself at a
sufficient level of organisation and metabolism in order to continue to be a body. The fact that all the most important things- love, life, nourishment, death, joy and pain- all take place in the body and for the body, simply adds further mystery to the mystery of existence.
Perhaps we should not then be surprised that the body has always been at the centre of artistic activity, as well as naturally that of medical and biological research.
The living manifest their beauty and power in terms of the body, and they impose themselves through their bearing and attitude. It is in its phenomenological manifestation that life displays its splendour, not in the distant and invisible genetic foundations. We live immersed in the wonder of the world, and it is this luminous epiphany that unleashes erotic passion, poetic inspiration, the impulse to build and the leaning
towards scientific understanding. It is this unravelled richness that provides a home for emotions, words and song. And the more refined and complex the organisation of the phenotype, the more the expression of the form is integrated into the head: every human has a different face.
When we love, our love is directed towards a person, to one particular person, who we have certainly not picked out because of their genome, but because of their distant and filtered emanation, from that rich and burning reverberation of their face, lips, gaze or smile.
As such they enter into us and become like an icon of our destiny. The organs of the senses are mainly located in the head, and these organs, particularly the eyes, are also instruments of communication.
When we meet an Other, be they human or animal, we immediately seek their eyes with our eyes, because eyes both see and speak, they weave a silent and eloquent dialogue. A dialogue where lying is forbidden: “look me in the eye, you have to look me in the eye when you say it”, the words of lovers who suspect a betrayal or fear abandonment and don’t trust the words being spoken. “all eyes on me!” the exhortation of the magician or the charlatan. As such, if the eyes of the other are closed, as they are in the photographs of Roberto Kusterle, one feels unease, even pain in the denial of communication. One might feel embarrassment speaking with a blind person, as we might feel embarrassed by the gaze of someone with autism, who avoids our face, glancing to the side or looking down with a fixed and inexpressive face which we cannot penetrate, despite or desire or our need to make contact. In this collection, a couple of photographs show a human eye, the eye of
Polyphemus, menacing and terrible like a scream (The Mask of Hypocrisy, Cyclopic Meal). Other open eyes belong to animals: the amazed eyes of fish (The Racist Carp, Marine Binocular, Pseudo-Oedipus, Chinese fish, which brings to mind the Chinese proverb “big fish eat little fish”), the invisible and swarming eyes of insects, often bees (Buzzing, The Solitary Bee, The Bearer of Sour Honey, New Friendships, The Healthy Harvest) or the inaccessible eyes of gastropods (Where are you going?Cosmetic Exploration, I smelled the slowness, The Albino Snail, Vortex of Serenity, Gathering) or of asps (The poison of wonder, The necklace of mediation) or water snakes (Listen to the aroma). The eyes of the
humans do not see: sometimes, whitened by a great obstructive papule, they offer sight as a sacrifice, as a gift of love (Blind for You) or they are hidden (The Shy Grape-Picker), look elsewhere (The Angel of the Night), are closed (Ancient Friendships), entombed behind disturbing prostheses (Contact Lenses, The Swimmer of Meadows) or they negate their function (Fear of the Light). The closed eyelids might hide the absence of the eyeballs, which we might imagine to have fallen back, with the clatter of pencils or glass marbles, thanks to some hidden counterweight mechanism, as those old vacant, chubby dolls would do when you lay them on their back. The blindness of the eyes,
their closure, the impossibility of communion between the gazes, directs our gaze to the body, particularly towards the incomparable splendour of the female body. This is a body which is at times in harmony with plants, which reveal themselves to be the entire internal structure (Interior Growth) at other times it is hybridised with sharp-horned animals (Impotent Goat, Betrayed Unicorn, Nostalgia for intercourse) or equipped with the soft ears of a donkey (With the wind at you back). In Kusterle’s work the body is often manipulated, it may be smeared with earth
(The obstacle, The Call, Those Poems of the Sea); decorated with signs, letters and symbols (Easy Algebra); transformed into a terrestrial globe, with the oceans and continents inscribed on the gently rounded belly of a pregnant woman (The New World) covered with sketches and arcane scribbles (The Secret Paths), imprisoned in a mineral sarcophagus (Stone Shirt), monstrously transformed into a mass of clay, from
which a chillingly fleshless jaw protrudes (Reawakening of stone), or covered in spines (Modesty of light).
These bodies, particularly the female ones, are the symbol and image of an ancient- almost barbaricrituality, of a return to earthly traditions, to the primordial and bubbling fecundity of the Palaeolithic Venus (Offering to the earth). In only a few cases can we contemplate the incomparable grace of naked bodies in chiaroscuro (At the Start), charged with a swelling eroticism (Interior Growth). There is a powerfully dreamlike evocation in the poetics of Roberto Kusterle, which elicits surprise and curiosity and offers a previously unseen reading of the body. It explores the immense symbolic content of the body and the inexhaustible fascination which inspires a tactile and anatomical exploration, the sex
trade or the analysis through autopsy. It is a prelude to other interventions: surgical, therapeutic, aesthetic, transformative or sculptural (we might think of the exponents of body art, such as Orlan, Stelarc, Gina Pane): tattoos, amputations, insertions, removals, transplants, incisions, disassembly, mutilations, stripping of flesh, infibulations. These are often the embodiment (literally) of the exercise or abuse of power, or else are an expression of the need to decorate (or perhaps hide and transform) oneself with indelible decorations or gruelling operations. This is
crystallised into a tribal or postmodern culture, which is driven to go beyond the limits of torture.
In thinking about torture, we might ask ourselves what indifference to bodily pain lies in the heart of the torturer- during the Inquisition or elsewhere.
Armed with pincers, knives and instruments of torture, expert in the use of all the tools and weapons that human ingenuity has invented for inflicting pain and suffering. We might ask ourselves what sick curiosity drove the crowds to watch the torture, beheading and quartering. The body is always the protagonist- I am reminded of the torments of Marcantonio Bragadin, mutilated and tortured for two weeks after the fall
of Famagusta, in the summer of 1571, and at the end flayed alive. Even today endless hordes gawp at flickering screens, torn between horror and fascination, watching the torments inflicted on the bodies of victims of the acolytes of self-styled religions. And the body- with its indescribable complexity of skin, bone, muscles, cartilage, tendons and nerves- continues to be a source of wonder, an inspiration for works of art, the instigator of desire or repulsion, a vessel for all forms of corruption and of delight.
And what can we say of the skin? This admirable and infinitely sensitive integument is the filter and the confine of the body. Its very sensitivity reaches out into the exterior in order to put the self into contact with the world. We need to feel caresses, embraces
and kisses. Even a newborn infant seeks the body of its mother, finding in her warm and sensitive skin the comfort and consolation for having been born, an extension of their own skin. This search for primordial communication will persist throughout all our lives, extending to other bodies, but always with the tenacious and unconscious memory of the maternal body. Thanks to its grain, its scent and its soft
texture, the skin is a potent catalyst and transmitter of messages, a diffused and multi-form sense organ, the home of this vast and complicated alphabet of touch, which can determine the destinies of our lives, particularly in matters of love.
From the caves of Altamira and Lascaux, through Greek statues and the paintings of the renaissance, to the red and yellow waxworks of anatomical museums, the body symbolises both our weighty heritage as terrestrial creatures, and, at the same time, our reaching towards the highest plains of spirituality. Virginal innocence and the infinite variety of pornography are the two extreme- but perhaps overlapping- poles of the vast range of experiences and vibrations we find in the ever-changing, splendid and mysterious instrument which is our body.

Giuseppe O. Longo

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