What do we owe to the memories of one another's hearts?
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 an 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.
The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed
The Aorta of an Archivist, 2020-2021
Sparrows Sing to an Indifferent Sea, 2019.
Sparrows Sing to an Indifferent Sea, 2019.
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), [detail]2014
American Seabed, 2014
American Seabed, 2014 [detail]
Unknown and Solitary Seas (Dreams and Emotions of the 19th Century). 2018
Methuselah In Her Cradle, 2019
Tear Stains On Ocean Waves, 2019
Love, Before There Was Love, 2018
Survival Does Not Lie In The Heavens, 2012
The Sky, Once Choked With Stars, Will Slowly Darken, 2011
Study for Moon Flowers, 2016
The Computer of Jupiter, 2019
Elegies of Proxima b, 2019
Sisyphus' Archivists, 2018
Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas, 2018
The First Time, the Heart (A Portrait of Life 1854–1913), 2017
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). The artist-at-large program has been generously supported by the Barry and Mary Ann MacLean Fund for Art and Engineering. 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. The exhibition publication is also made possible in part by the Sandra L. Riggs Publications Fund.
Check back for Spring 2023 programming schedule
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
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
About Dario Robleto
His awards have included the International Association of Art Critics Award for best exhibition in a commercial gallery at the national level (2004); the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant (2007); the USA Rasmuson Fellowship (2009); and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Grant (2021). He has been a research fellow, artist-in-resident and visiting scholar at institutions such as the Smithsonian Museum of American History (2011); Rice University (2013-14); the Menil Collection (2014); the SETI Institute (2016-17); the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (2017); the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (2019); and the Arts Research Center, University of Berkeley, CA (2022). From 2016-19 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. He was co-author and editor for an accompanying publication, Mobile Brain-Body Imaging and the Neuroscience of Art, Innovation and Creativity (2019).
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).
Explore: The First Time, the Heart (A Portrait of Life 1854-1913)
Dario Robleto’s 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. The prints bear the linear tracings of heartbeats made by physicians and inventors in the 19th century, offering an intimate encounter with distant and forgotten lives. The Block is proud to house the entirety of The First Time, the Heart portfolio in its collection, a gift to the museum from the McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern University.
"Where are the first recordings of the heart under all of life’s conditions: love, fear, anticipation, desire, eating, sleeping, and laughing? Whose hearts were the first to offer their form, their remnants of a lived, emotionally complex life embedded in the oscillations of a wavy line? What technology needed to be invented to record the long-thought inaccessible heart? Like the earliest tracing of a hand on an ancient cave wall, these milestones in the history of images should be remembered, honored and empathized with because of their ability to universally convey something essential about us over long periods of time. The portfolio of prints The First Time, the Heart (A Portrait of Life 1854–1913) brings together the first successful scientific attempts to image and document the various experiences of a living heart, which would change the way we understand and communicate our bodies."
– Dario Robleto, The First Time, the Heart (A Portrait of Life 1854-1913), essay accompanying the print portfolio