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 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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