The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto: Block Museum - Northwestern University
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The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto

Robleto
January 26-July 9, 2023
Main Gallery
"The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto" presented by The Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University (January 26-July 9, 2023)

In The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto, American artist Dario Robleto (b. 1972, San Antonio) explores the empathetic nature of technology. Rooted in Robleto’s longstanding fascination with the clinical and cultural history of the human heart, this exhibition is a multisensory encounter between art and science that brings together ten years of the artist’s prints, sculptures, video, and sound installations. These works draw upon a wide range of technologies of peering and listening—from cardiographs to radio telescopes—seeking to attune viewers to the material traces of life at scales ranging from the intimate to the universal.

In his conceptually ambitious, elegantly wrought artworks, Robleto also hearkens to the emotional resonances of the historical record. The First Time, the Heart (A Portrait of Life 1854-1913) is a series of exquisite photolithographs executed on paper that has been hand sooted with candle flames. These bear the linear tracings of heartbeats made by physicians and inventors in the 19th century, offering an intimate encounter with distant and forgotten lives.  In Sparrows Sing to an Indifferent Sea, a sculpture casts heartbeats recorded in the 19th century during a variety of auditory experiences–listening to melodies, hearing whistles, snoring–in glittering brass. Other works in the exhibition gesture towards discoveries yet unmade. The immersive two-channel video installation, The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed, weaves Robleto’s archival inquiries into the first recorded pulses and heartbeats with a speculative search for intelligent life in the universe. The culmination of multi-year residency at The Block Museum of Art and the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern, Dario Robleto’s The Heart's Knowledge brings poetic and philosophical depth to the intersection of humanistic and scientific research.

The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto is organized by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, and is curated by Michael Metzger, Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts. The Block acknowledges with gratitude its partnership with Northwestern University’s Robert R. 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 also 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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Exhibition Publication

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The Hearts Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto

Published by The Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University
Distributed by ARTBOOK - DAP
ISBN: 978-1-64657-031-7, 160 pages
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
Produced by Lucia | Marquand, Seattle

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The prints, sculptures, and films of American artist Dario Robleto (b. 1972) explore the pathos and the speculative potential of scientific inquiry. The Heart's Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto traces the artist's intertwined fascinations with the human heart and the cosmic boundaries of perception: How does the history of cardiography speak to the scientific quest to picture the invisible? How do the heart's cultural and spiritual connotations shape our understanding of the universe we inhabit and the unknown forms of life it may contain? Structured around three broad themes that run through Robleto's practice Heartbeats, Wavelengths, and Horizons -this book traverses physical and intellectual boundaries, extending from the pulses and brainwaves of the human body to the faintest interstellar glimmers from the edges of our observable universe. Through contributions across the disciplines of musicology, anthropology, cardiology, engineering, history of science, and art history, The Heart's Knowledge offers an engaging and accessible companion to Robleto's wide-ranging work. Richly illustrated with images including selections from his 2017 portfolio, The First Time, the Heart (A Portrait of Life 1854-1913), which powerfully transforms the delicate pulse waves of early cardiography into a gallery of vanished souls, and the astral projections in such films as The Boundary of Life Is Quietly Crossed (2020)-the book reflects a decade of profound creative exploration and proposes new models for understanding research-based creative practice in visual culture studies.

Northwestern Engineering and The Block Artist-at-Large Program

"Here, a university’s school of engineering and its art museum come together in the shared belief that transformative innovation can happen at the intersections of usually distinct academic disciplines and modes of creativity and inquiry." 

Lisa Graziose Corrin, Ellen Philips Katz Executive Director, The Block Museum of Art and Julio Mario Ottino, Dean, McCormick School of Engineering

Sparrows Sing to an Indifferent Sea, 2019.

Sparrows Sing to an Indifferent Sea, 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”. With pedestal and vitrine: 45" x 54 1/2“ x 29”. Courtesy the artist.
Sparrows Sing to an Indifferent Sea, 2018.

Sparrows Sing to an Indifferent Sea, 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”. With pedestal and vitrine: 45" x 54 1/2“ x 29”. Courtesy the artist.
The Pulse Armed With a Pen (An Unknown History of the Human Heartbeat), 2014

The Pulse Armed With a Pen (An Unknown History of the Human Heartbeat), 2014

28 custom cut 5-inch vinyl records, audio recordings, archival digital prints (record sleeves, liner notes, labels, slides), three centuries of various human pulse and heartbeat tracings, glass slides, custom bound book, oak, silk, engraved gold mirror, brass, headphones, media players. 18 x 14   x 21inches (box overall, open); installed in variable dimensions. Courtesy the artist.
The Pulse Armed With a Pen (An Unknown History of the Human Heartbeat), [detail] 2014

The Pulse Armed With a Pen (An Unknown History of the Human Heartbeat), [detail]2014

28 custom cut 5-inch vinyl records, audio recordings, archival digital prints (record sleeves, liner notes, labels, slides), three centuries of various human pulse and heartbeat tracings, glass slides, custom bound book, oak, silk, engraved gold mirror, brass, headphones, media players. 18 x 14   x 21inches (box overall, open); installed in variable dimensions. Courtesy the artist.
American Seabed, 2014

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, excluding pedestal
American Seabed, 2014

American Seabed, 2014 [detail]

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, excluding pedestal
The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed

The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed

Two-channel 4K video, color, 5.1 surround sound installation. Running time: 51:00, looped
The Aorta of an Archivist, 2020-2021

The Aorta of an Archivist, 2020-2021

UHD video, 5.1 surround sound installation, 53 minutes In collaboration with Skye Ashbrook and Bill Haddad

About Dario Robleto

dario-robleto-1-med-by-kevin-frady-copy.pngDario Robleto was born in San Antonio, Texas in 1972 and received his BFA from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 1997. He lives and works in Houston, TX.
The artist has had numerous solo exhibitions since 1997, most recently at the Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, KS (2021); the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (2019); the McNay Museum, San Antonio, TX (2018); Menil Collection, Houston, TX (2014); the Baltimore Museum of Art (2014); the New Orleans Museum of Art (2012); and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver (2011). His work has been profiled in numerous publications and media including Radiolab, Krista Tippet's On Being, and the New York Times. In 2008 a 10-year survey exhibition, Alloy of Love, was organized by the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York. Accompanied by a major monograph, Alloy of Love traveled to the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, Washington.

Notable group shows include Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN (2021); The Sorcerer's Burden: Contemporary Art and The Anthropological Turn, The Contemporary Austin, Austin, TX (2019); Prospect 4: The Lotus In Spite of the Swamp, New Orleans, LA (2017); Explode Every Day: An Inquiry into the Phenomena of Wonder, MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA (2016); SITE: 20 Years/20 Shows, SITE Santa Fe, NM (2015); Nouveau Festival 5th Edition, Centre Pompidou, Paris, FR (2014); The Record/Contemporary Art and Vinyl, Nasher Museum of Art, Durham, NC (2011); The Old, Weird America, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX (2008); and Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (2004).

In 2015 he joined a distinguished team of scientists as the artistic consultant to “Breakthrough Message”—a multi-national effort that aims to encourage intellectual and technical debate about how and what to communicate if the current search for intelligent beings beyond Earth is successful. He is currently serving as an Artist-in-Residence in Neuroaesthetics at the University of Houston’s Cullen College of Engineering and Artist-at-Large at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering and the Block Museum of Art. In 2016 he was appointed as the Texas State Artist Laureate. He is a former board member of Artpace, San Antonio and is currently on the board of advisors at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. In 2020, he was a research consultant to the popular science television series, Cosmos: Possible Worlds, which aired on National Geographic and Fox. He is currently working on his first book, Life Signs: The Tender Science of the Pulsewave, co-authored with art historian Jennifer Roberts, the Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities at Harvard (University of Chicago Press).