Artist-at-Large: Dario Robleto: Block Museum - Northwestern University
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Dario Robleto

Artist-at-Large: Dario Robleto

In Spring 2018 the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Block Museum of Art hosted the artist Dario Robleto at Northwestern to launch a new Artist-at-Large Program. The Program joins other activities organized by McCormick that are part of its ongoing Art and Engineering Initiative. The Artist-at-Large Program brings contemporary artists to campus for in-depth exchanges with faculty and students. 

Dario Robleto, whose work is born out of cross-disciplinary research and collaboration, is uniquely positioned to serve as the first artist for this initiative. Over the last twenty years, Robleto's work has explored the intersections of music, popular culture, language, storytelling, and the histories of science and war. He draws upon unconventional materials spanning from archival materials, to meteorites to heartbeat recordings from the 19th century. A self-proclaimed "citizen-scientist," Robleto pursues deep collaborations with experts across fields of inquiry spanning astrophysics, cardiology, glaciology, and neuroscience. He has even been an artist-in-residence at the SETI Institute.


Artist-at-Large Program

The Northwestern University Artist-at-Large Program grew out of a series of campus artist visits during 2016-2017 hosted by the Block Museum and the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. Each invited artist delivered a series of lectures and met with faculty during two to five-day visits. The goal was to discover intersections between the interests of the artists and those of Northwestern faculty, and learn how they might inspire each other's thinking. Artists met with faculty in robotics, computer science, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology, along with bioethics, poetry and art history (among many others). The goals of the Artist-at-Large Program are to:

The Artist-at-Large Program reflects The Block's commitment to creating partnerships across the University and to projects that take place outside the Museum's galleries. Dario Robleto's Artist-at-Large residency was overseen by Susy Bielak, the Sue and Steve Wilson Associate Director of Engagement/Curator of Public Practice at The Block. The Block's Public Practice Program encourages art encounters across Northwestern University and its surrounding communities. Engaging the people, location, history, research, facilities, libraries and laboratories surrounding the Museum, public practices projects offer first-hand experience of the creative process. Taking the form of works of art, workshops, performances, publications, and projects, public practice at the Block Museum grows out of campus and community collaborations.

Dario Robleto at Northwestern

From late April through the end of May 2018, Robleto embedded himself within Northwestern's Chicago and Evanston campuses. Robleto attended courses, visitd laboratories, and meet regularly with faculty and students from across McCormick and beyond-including Astrophysics, Bioethics, Cardiology, Computer Science, Neurology, the Segal Design Institute, Sound Studies, and Synthetic Biology, among others. Planned highlights for his visit included a public presentation and workshop featuring Robleto and sound historian Patrick Feaster and ongoing conversations about ethics and poetics in science with Robleto, faculty from the Center for Synthetic Biology and the Department of Bioethics and Medical Humanities. Robleto was also in regular conversation with students from the Segal Institute of Design. 

A key part of the project included providing Robleto with a "hall pass" that provides him access to the brain trust of McCormick and resources across campus-putting him in direct contact with people whose work could be catalytic for his artistic practice.

More about Dario Robleto

Robleto has exhibited his work in museums and galleries across the United States, including at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, and the Menil Collection in Houston. In 2008, the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College organized Alloy of Love, a 10-year survey exhibition of Robleto's art. He has also served as visiting artist and lecturer at several universities and institutions including Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute. 

He was the recipient of both the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant (2007) and the USA Rasmuson Fellowship (2009). He has been a research fellow and artist in resident at institutions such as the Smithsonian Museum of American History (2011); Rice University (2013-14); The Menil Collection (2014); and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (2017). In 2016 and 2017 he was a co-organizer of the International Conference on Mobile Brain-Body Imaging and the Neuroscience of Art, Innovation, and Creativity in Cancun, Mexico and Valencia, Spain. Robleto's work was featured in the 2017 Block Museum of Art exhibition "If You Remember, I'll Remember."

In 2015 Robleto 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 at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA. In 2016 he was appointed as the Texas State Artist Laureate. He is currently serving on the board of advisors of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

Art + Engineering Interview: Dario Robleto from Block Museum on Vimeo.

Read More: Art + Engineering: Dario Robleto on the shared quest of art and science


Events with Dario Robleto


Exploring Ethics: Across Art, Humanities, and Science
Wednesday, May 8, 2019, 6PM

For many artists, researchers, and scientists investigating life—whether working with human remains, studying organ donation, or re-engineering the genetic code—ethical considerations inevitably appear. Questions of consent and personal autonomy, control and access, social responsibility and human rights proliferate across areas of research that work with living subjects. How do professionals in these fields identify, draw inspiration from, and respond to ethical questions within their work? In this program bridging disciplinary divides, artist Dario Robleto; synthetic biologists Josh Leonard, Julius Lucks, and Danielle Tullman-Ercek; and medical anthropologist Megan Crowley-Matoka will share specific dilemmas they’ve encountered in their own work—and discuss commonalities and differences that could lead to new ways of addressing contemporary ethical concerns.

This event is part of the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and The Block Museum of Art’s Artist-at-Large Program, and McCormick’s ongoing Art and Engineering Initiative.


The Art of Scientific Storytelling
Monday, November 12, 2018

"During the second lecture of the 2018-19 Whole-Brain Leadership for PhD Students Seminar Series, transdisciplinary artist Dario Robleto challenged Northwestern Engineering PhD students to consider ways scientific investigations can be enhanced by art’s sensitivity to the human experience...In Robleto’s talk, 'The Art of Scientific Storytelling,' he discussed the deep connections between art and science through his own creative research methods, narrative storytelling, and exploration of sound and sculpture. 'Part of my job as an artist is to observe other fields and to make this case that sometimes an idea is just so big that it transcends its field of origin,' he said. 'Siloed thinking needs to be challenged, especially with the problems ahead of us currently, but also in the years to come.'" - Alexandria Jacobsen, Northwestern Engineering News 

Dario Robleto & Patrick Feaster: Unlocking Sounds of the Past
Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Interweaving historical research, poetic storytelling, and innovative approaches to image and sound processing, a multi-year collaboration between artist Dario Robleto and media historian Patrick Feaster has sought to discover the unexpected sounds of our shared past. Together the pair has worked as "audio archaeologists" with the lost sounds of history. Their work has included making audible the world's first pulse and heartbeat recordings originally traced in soot from flames in the nineteenth century. Currently, they are working on reanimating the first electrical signals recorded from the heart and brain in various states of emotional experience.

Audio Visualization Workshop
Thursday, April 26, 2018

In their workshop, artist Dario Robleto and media historian Patrick Feaster gave an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at their collaborations and experiments to date, offering a window into the technical, conceptual and emotional possibilities of engaging historical media across arts and sciences. Students have an opportunity to try their own hands at using custom software Feaster has designed for extracting audio from images, interpreted either as spectrograms or waveforms, as well as for manipulating audio through such techniques as "melodization." 

The introduction of such unconventional techniques for "bringing history to life" raises important emotional and ethical questions about the responsibility the present owes to the past. If technology offers new modes of actualizing the historical record, how can the use of this technology rise beyond mere novelty to increase empathy, compassion, understanding, and wonder across time? And how can the technical processes themselves be fine-tuned to heighten affective impact without unduly sacrificing accuracy and objectivity? 

This program is co-sponsored by the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art, the McCormick School of Engineering and the Northwestern Master's Degree in Sound Arts and Industries


The Pulse Armed With a Pen: The Unknown History of the Human Heartbeat
Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Part storytelling, original research and rare sound performance, Robleto’s The Pulse Armed With a Pen: An Unknown History of the Human Heartbeat will weave together topics as diverse as the earliest attempts to record the heartbeat as sound and image, the heartbeat and brainwave recordings currently on a probe heading for the edge of the Solar System, pre-Edison sound recordings, and recent developments in the history of the artificial heart. The result is a creative intertwining of multiple histories of human exploration, in both outer and inner space.

Presented in partnership with the McCormick School of Engineering