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 27-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)

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 Hearts Knowledge concentrates on the most recent decade of Robletos 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 Hearts Knowledge marks the culmination of Robletos five-year engagement as Artist-at-Large in Northwestern Universitys 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, 2019

The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed

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

The Aorta of an Archivist, 2020-2021

UHD video, 5.1 surround sound installation; Running time: 53:00. In collaboration with Skye Ashbrook and Bill Haddad
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
Unknown and Solitary Seas

Unknown and Solitary Seas (Dreams and Emotions of the 19th Century). 2018

Earliest waveform recordings of blood flowing from the heart and in the brain during sleep, dreaming, and various emotional states (1874-96), rendered and 3-D printed in brass-plated stainless steel; lacquered maple, 22k gold leaf, Box (closed): 2 1/4” x 21 1/4” x 25 1/4” With pedestal and vitrine: 45” x 51” x 31 1/4”
Methuselah In Her Cradle, 2019

Methuselah In Her Cradle, 2019

Earliest waveform recordings of blood flowing from the heart in newborns to 10-year-olds (1886), rendered and 3-D printed in brass-plated stainless steel; ebonized mahogany, 23k gold leaf, Box (closed): 2 1/2” x 22” x 25” With pedestal and vitrine: 45" x 52 1/2“ x 31"
Tear Stains On Ocean Waves

Tear Stains On Ocean Waves, 2019

Earliest flatline recordings of the cessation of blood flowing from the heart (1870-86), rendered and 3-D printed in brass-plated stainless steel; ebonized mahogany, 23k gold leaf, Box (closed): 2 1/2” x 25” x 22” With pedestal and vitrine: 45" x 58 1/2“ x 28“
Love, Before There Was Love

Love, Before There Was Love, 2018

Earliest waveform recordings of blood flowing through the heart both before and during an emotional state (1870), rendered and 3-D printed in brass-plated stainless steel; brushed steel, glass, Each 58” x 17” x 17” overall with vitrine
Survival Does Not Lie In The Heavens

Survival Does Not Lie In The Heavens, 2012

Digital inkjet print mounted on Sintra, a Location 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
The Sky, Once Choked With Stars, Will Slowly Darken

The Sky, Once Choked With Stars, Will Slowly Darken, 2011

Suite of 8 archival digital prints on Epson Somerset Velvet 255gsm paper, 4 diptychs, each print 44" x 44"
Study for Moon Flowers

Study for Moon Flowers, 2016

Various cut and polished seashells, urchin spines, green tusks, squilla claws, butterfly wings, feathers, cut paper, colored powder pigments, colored plastic beads and glitter, pearlescent paint, plastic domes, print on paper, brass rod, glue, mirrored Plexiglas, glue, painted wood, 23 ½" x 12" x 12" overall with base and vitrine
The Computer of Jupiter

The Computer of Jupiter, 2019

Various 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" overall with base and vitrine
Elegies of Proxima b

Elegies of Proxima b, 2019

Various cut and polished seashells, urchin spines, green tusks, squilla claws, butterfly wings, cut paper, colored powder pigments, colored plastic beads, acrylic domes, brass rod, colored and mirrored Plexiglas, glue, acrylic on wood, 48" x 18" x 18" overall with base and vitrine
Sisyphus' Archivists

Sisyphus' Archivists, 2018

Cut paper, various cut and polished seashells, green and white tusks, squilla claws, spirula shell, colored powder pigments, colored crushed glass and glitter, plastic domes, prints on paper, basswood, foam core, glue, frame, 30 1/2"” x 25” x 2 1/2"
Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas

Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas, 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”
Portfolio

The First Time, the Heart (A Portrait of Life 1854–1913), 2017

Photolithography, hand-flamed and sooted paper, image lifted from soot with lithotine, fused with shellac and denatured alcohol, Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, gift of Northwestern Engineering, 2018.6

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.

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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

Pre-order

 
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

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.

Robleto has been a visiting artist and lecturer at many universities and institutions including Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA; Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI; and the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD. In 2013-14 he served as the California College of the Arts Viola Frey Distinguished Visiting Professor, Oakland, CA.

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)

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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.

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"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 

screen-shot-2022-12-13-at-4.45.47-pm.pngExhibition Media Kit

Journalists are invited to download images, essays, and assets related to the exhibition. For additional media inquiries please contact Lindsay Bosch, Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications (lindsay.bosch@northwestern.edu)

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