Roberto Kusterle: who said the future could kill dreams?

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shore of Orion.
I watched T beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser gate.
All those moments will he lost in time…like tears in rain.
Time to die!”
Roy Batty (Blade Runner)

The relationship between humans and machines, the power of the media, cloning, overpopulation, biogenetic mutations; these are some of the themes and anxieties of our times.
Scientific progress continues to exceed the most daring prophecies of science fiction; just think of the use of virtual reality in surgery or Dolly the sheep, and new technologies that have shifted the focus of the future in directions that could not be contemplated some tens of years ago.
Roberto Kusterle has for some years investigated hybridisation and fascinating horizons of possible mutations. Cuts in images, daring because they are exasperatingly classical, a close-up that lingers on the often cracked skin of the subjects, make us feel that something is imminent. The fantastic in Kusterle’s works is not evident at first sight, but it is always there. All the “chosen” bodies have a magnetic fascination, but they are not human; they are monstrous imaginary characters that Kusterle creates by assembling parts of the human anatomy with pieces of the vegetal or animal world.
There is often something not quite right in his faces, some strange imperfection that reveals their conception in a laboratory, in perfect Blade Runner style. The beauty of the photography here coincides with a search for details that amounts to an almost scientific representation of the bodies described, too refined to be read in terms of realism. What the observer does notice is that time passes on the surfaces of bodies and details exalt the changes taking place, albeit in an uncertain overall vision. Behind the appearance of these bodies there could be a cyborg, a genetic experiment, an alien creature.
The theme of mutation and its lack of balance are fundamental in the images of Kusterle. As in the best science fiction films, Kusterle ‘builds’ ‘deranged’ bodies from the aesthetic models of traditions of visionary art that prefer creation to representation; new discoveries in the field of genetic engineering will soon make the laboratory design of an elite approved race seem a plausible hypothesis.
Roberto Kusterle is an enigmatic and fascinating figure. Through his works he mixes fragments of mythology from the history of humanity, combining the most classical and remote myths with contemporary more abnormal bizarre ones. In so doing he brings alive a world of mutation that becomes almost an atlas of transformations. Kusterle seems to reflect about today’s world, where the concepts of birth, life, ageing, and death are changing rapidly, and he knows that the very definition of normality could change, conditioned by models imposed by the genetics industry and communication media. Also for this reason one of the elements of his work is an invitation to reflect on a world that increasingly embraces the biogenetics industry to modify, alter and build its own image. But Roberto Kusterle is a cultured author who appears to adopt a poetic attitude towards the common terror of abnormality; Kusterle’s images invite us to question ourselves about the sense of our existence: what is it that makes us what we are? And above all, if our body really can be destroyed and re-built by technology, what implications does this have on our identity as human beings? One senses a profound knowledge of the history of art in the works, views and frames of Kusterle, and in an arid cultural landscape, scarred continuously by attacks on beauty, his work is immediately distinguishable because it features an aesthetic touch that creates beauty rather than fear. What makes him so interesting is his very use of aesthetics to develop an ethical position on one of the major questions of our times, i.e. the different way of conceiving life and nature under the furious blows of technology, as well as his recourse to the visionary nature of art, always fecund and powerful in producing ‘different’ beings from humans.
Kusterle prefers to create an artificial world in which hybrid creatures and human beings live together in perfect aesthetic harmony. This places his work between beauty and ideology.
Human bodies, plants, flowers, animals and earth The result is a still life that bubbles with vitality, where the goddesses and gods of beauty in our times are presented as anxious icons, with eyes shut, or their backs to us, or in positions that hide their eyes. Image manipulation is the procedure adopted by Kusterle; the rapport between the human body and the vegetal world implies other meanings, including beauty, sex, spirituality and death. The key to Kusterle’s approach to the image is above all eternity/preservation, resulting from the perfect balance between reality and imagination. This is why the human body is the leitmotif of his photographs, interpreted in a double sense by combinations of pulsating organs and entities associated in support of ‘others’ who take part in its survival. All his pictures produce two prospects that seem to freeze vitality in an exemplary, definite shape, and so the image becomes a reflection on the paradoxical desire for immortality that smoulders under art and that is essential in all its manifestations. Kusterle’s images also appear to face the theme of poetic and “cracked” beauty, a search for the elixir of eternal beauty that touches all ages and races, even embracing a part of the enchanted world of fairy tales.

Francesca Alfano Miglietti