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Announcement
January 12, 2023

The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto

Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University

Dario Robleto, The Aorta of an Archivist, 2021. UHD video, 5.1 surround sound installation, 53:00 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.

Dario Robleto, The Computer of Jupiter (detail), 2019. Cut and polished seashells, urchin spines, cut and quilled paper, squilla claws, colored powder pigments, colored plastic beads, acrylic domes, brass rod, colored and mirrored Plexiglas, glue, acrylic on wood. 48 x 19 x 19 inches overall with base and vitrine. Courtesy of the artist.

Dario Robleto, The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed (still), 2019. Two-channel 4K video, color, 5.1 surround sound installation; Running time: 51:00. Courtesy of the artist.

Dario Robleto, Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas (detial), 2018. Cut and polished nautilus shells, various cut and polished seashells, various urchin spines and teeth, mushroom coral, green and white tusks, squilla claws, butterfly wings, colored pigments and beads, colored crushed glass and glitter, dyed mica flakes, pearlescent paint, cut paper, acrylic domes, brass rods, colored mirrored Plexiglas, glue, maple, 75 x 71 1/2 x 43 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Dario Robleto, Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas (detail), 2018. Cut and polished nautilus shells, various cut and polished seashells, various urchin spines and teeth, mushroom coral, green and white tusks, squilla claws, butterfly wings, colored pigments and beads, colored crushed glass and glitter, dyed mica flakes, pearlescent paint, cut paper, acrylic domes, brass rods, colored mirrored Plexiglas, glue, maple, 75 x 71 1/2 x 43 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

 

Dario Robleto, American Seabed, 2014. Fossilized prehistoric whale ear bones salvaged from the sea (1 to 10 million years), various butterflies, butterfly antennae made from stretched and pulled audiotape recordings of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” concrete, ocean water, pigments, coral, brass, steel, Plexiglas. 37 x 68 x 55 inches (overall without pedestal. Courtesy of the artist.

Dario Robleto, Sparrows Sing to an Indifferent Sea (detail), 2019. Earliest waveform recordings of inhalation and blood flowing from the heart during various auditory experiences (1876-96), rendered and 3-D printed in brass-plated stainless steel; lacquered maple, 23k gold leaf. Box (closed): 2 1/4 x 23 x 23 inches With pedestal and vitrine: 45 x 54 1/2 x 29 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

 

Dario Robleto, Survival Does Not Lie In The Heavens, 2012. Digital inkjet print mounted on Sintra, a collection of stage lights taken from the album covers of live performances of now-deceased Gospel, Blues and Jazz musicians. Triptych: 31 x 31; 46 x 46; 31 x 31 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

What do we owe to the memories of one another's hearts? The Block Museum of Art and the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University present The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto (January 26–July 9, 2023).

For American artist Dario Robleto (b. 1972), artists and scientists share a common aspiration: to increase the sensitivity of their observations. Throughout the history of scientific invention, instruments like the cardiograph and the telescope have extended the reach of perception from the tiniest stirrings of the human body to the farthest reaches of space. In his prints, sculptures, and video and sound installations, Robleto contemplates the emotional significance of these technologies, bringing us closer to the latent traces of life buried in the scientific record.

The Heart’s Knowledge concentrates on the most recent decade of Robleto’s creative practice, a period of deepening engagement with histories of medicine, biomedical engineering, sound recording, and space exploration. The exhibition organizes the artist’s conceptually ambitious, elegantly wrought artworks as a series of multisensory encounters between art and science. Each work seeks to attune viewers to the material traces of life at scales ranging from the intimate to the universal, returning always to the question: Does empathy extend beyond the boundaries of time and space?

In The First Time, the Heart (A Portrait of Life 1854–1913) (2017), Robleto transforms early measurements of heartbeats made by 19th-century pioneers of cardiography into exquisite photolithographs executed on paper hand-sooted with candle flames. For the installation The Pulse Armed With a Pen (An Unknown History of the Human Heartbeat) (2014), Robleto collaborates with sound historian Patrick Feaster to digitally resurrect these heartbeats in audio form, giving visitors intimate pulses of life recorded before the invention of sound playback. Other works in the exhibition gesture towards scientific discoveries yet unmade. Two immersive video installations, The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed (2019) and The Aorta of an Archivist (2020-2021) weave Robleto’s archival inquiries into the first recorded heartbeats with a meditation on the cosmic limits of perception, while intricate sculptures like Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas (2018) give shape to the speculative search for intelligent life in the universe.

The Heart’s Knowledge marks the culmination of Robleto’s five-year engagement as Artist-at-Large in Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. This exhibition reflects the spirit of that enterprise, expanding conversations around ethics and empathy in scientific fields, and inviting us to look and listen to the life that surrounds us with curiosity and compassion.

Opening celebration
"Science, Art, and the Search for Meaning" opening conversation with Dario Robleto. Saturday, February 4, 2pm, RSVP. Join us for a discussion that reaches across boundaries to examine the shared pursuit that binds artists and scientists. Robleto will be joined by Jennifer Roberts, Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University; Lucianne Walkowicz, astronomer and co-founder of the JustSpace Alliance; and Michael Metzger, Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts to reflect on these questions.

Additional events
"Interstellar Aesthetics and Acts of Translation", Dario Robleto with scholar Elizabeth Kessler and astrophysicist Shane Larson, February 22, 6pm. ​"Ann Druyan and The Golden Record" (online), Ann Druyan in conversation with Dario Robleto and Jennifer Roberts, March 8, 6pm.

Full list of winter 2023 programming available online, spring 2023 programs forthcoming.

Publication
The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto is available now via ARTBOOK DAP. Edited by Michael Metzger with contributions by: Robert M. Brain, Daniel K. L. Chua, Patrick Feaster, Stefan Helmreich, Elizabeth A. Kessler, Julius B. Lucks, Michael Metzger, Elizabeth Kathleen Mitchell, Alexander Rehding, Jennifer L. Roberts, Dario Robleto, and Claire Isabel Webb.

Credits
The Heart’s Knowledge is organized by the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. The Block acknowledges with gratitude its partnership with Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, whose leadership support has made possible this exhibition, the associated publication, and the Artist-at-Large residency of Dario Robleto (2018-2023). Major support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. Generous support is contributed by the Dorothy J. Speidel Fund, the Bernstein Family Contemporary Art Fund, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, and the Alumnae of Northwestern University.

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