Myth, fable, reality and unreality, without end

Being outside of time, beyond reason or imagination, as though suspended by the thread dividing reality from dream, immersed in the territory of the infinite, is what gives Kusterle’s images the mythical and magic aura of bygone fairy tales.
It is like a parallel discourse: the artist’s ‘anachronistic’ images allude to myth and possess the particular evocative power of myth through their creation of characters who confront the great unknown forces of the earth and the universe in a mixture of expressionism and surrealism, a sort of new, original and refined mannerism.
If the images in the portraits of the series entitled ‘Body Rites’ already reminded us of the deities or semi-deities of ancient religions, with features both human and animal, now the thought goes back to remote stories told by the ancients and handed down across the centuries.
For example, it might reach back to Biblical happenings, as in the case of the miraculous catch told in the images of ‘Fishing Preserve’ or in the scene of the fall in ‘Blessed Cotton’. Ancient Greek mythology is directly cited in the figure of Sisyphus, the man who bears the burden of an enormous sheaf of branches and who is likened to the mythological character punished by Zeus. But whereas in the Greek myth the difficulty of the hero’s tremendous exertion is aggravated by its uselessness, the efforts of this new Sisyphus do not seem in the least meaningless – on the contrary, they seem to respond to an unfathomable and in a certain sense ethical necessity.
‘Circe’s Falconer’ takes us back to the atmosphere of the great Homeric epic of the Odyssey, while in ‘The Fortune of the Poor’ there is a singular mythological – Biblical aura created by the presence of a renewed ethical – moral sense underlying the image. And then, how can we not be reminded of Leonardo da Vinci in the series of images whose theme is initiation to flight, with men endowed with extraordinary winged contraptions, or with flying lessons amusingly enough given to the birds themselves by other men.
These are distant myths, ancient, modern and contemporary, never told and never known, waiting to be rediscovered and in a certain sense relived, almost as if they had resurfaced from lost memories.
Obviously in this case it is the setting that plays a decisive role, where setting is understood as the choice of a particular site, unidentifiable in its specific, casual elements and without any recognizable signs of epoch. It is also a setting intended as the invention of a light that refers to an undefined, perhaps inexistent, time of day. Sea, sky and earth concentrate in themselves thousands of other seas, thousands of other skies, the whole of the earth. A ‘sacred lagoon’, the expanse of a measureless sea, a meadow whose very existence seems doubtful, a hillside of deserted earth, the bank of a vanished river – the setting of these works is always a timeless and placeless reality.
In these images each natural element functions not only as background but also as protagonist, carrying a charge of magic energy and a profound evocative power. This a magic energy is made of earth and of light, like the energy that protects the sleep of a small girl, cradled by the music of a violin played by a fox and the profound impression unexpectedly created by a mute choir of fish emerging from the water.
It is the magic of evocation, of the tones and places typical of fairy tales, and as such is present in the series dedicated to ‘The Child and his Wood’. Here the spectator is taken by the hand and led by a child travelling through ‘his’ mysterious wood in search of an imaginary nature, full of the marvellous and an inexhaustible source of incredible revelations.
It is through the child’s eyes that we come to believe in the truth of what we see: the life of a tree, gigantic eggs, enormous frogs.
And fear is mingled with the magic, lies are mingled with the truth. Irony and drama, comedy and tragedy. Always opposite and complementary instruments, equally essential to interpret the world, life as well as death, in the end are woven together and confounded in these images as well.
In this fusion of various antithetical components the work of Roberto Kusterle not only reveals itself as the work of an artist gifted with original creative inspiration but also shows its deeply Middle-European spirit.
This spirit is ‘troubled and full of melancholy’, to adopt the adjectives used by one writer* in describing that most Middle-European and magic of cities, Prague. Prague, city with “a halo of grief and decay, with a grimace of eternal disappointment”, a “metaphysical madhouse (…): madhouse and at the same time universal stage, with observatories and dizzying stairways, with strange machines and jazz and camels that Rimbaud even brought into his rented room, a completely Kafkaesque-Praguesque room”.
This metaphysical madhouse, this universal stage, lives anew in absolutely authentic form in Roberto Kusterle’s images. In our contemporary world of seemingly total loss and decay, Kusterle’s work recovers archaic, mythical and legendary atmospheres and spirituality in his continual search to give meaning to what we are, beyond the most obvious appearances.

Franca Marri 
*Angelo M. Ripellino, Praga magica, Einaudi, Torino 1973