Dario Robleto bridges science and art
Houston resident and Rice University Artist Research Fellow Dario Robleto is making waves on the national art stage. At only 42, his work has been displayed in solo exhibitions across the nation, in cities such as New York, Seattle and Los Angeles. Robleto’s most recent exhibition, “The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed,” is currently on display at the Menil Collection. The exhibition includes a mix of “found” artifacts, Robleto’s own sculptures and pieces from the Menil itself.
Robleto’s work is framed around the famous story of the Golden Record. A NASA team headed by Carl Sagan decided there should be a record of humanity circulating in space so that, if the Earth were destroyed, some memory of human beings would persist. Perhaps, Sagan hoped, new life forms could find the record and appreciate the beauty of humanity. He hired creative director Ann Druyan, and the two went about deciding what was worthy of being on the record. Among other things, they settled upon music from different cultures, a variety of images and tapings of various human languages. Magically, in the process of selecting these pieces, Druyan and Sagan fell for each other and later married. This inspired Druyan to attempt to “capture” human love and add it to the record by recording an EEG of her brain waves when she thought about Sagan. She fantasized that an advanced intelligence might one day be able to translate these brain waves back into the concept of love.
Robleto was captivated by this story and decided to make it the focus of his two-year artist research fellowship at Rice. Not only was he taken by the fascinating interplay of art and science in the Golden Record story, but he was also moved by Ann’s attempt to record her thoughts and feelings. The Menil exhibition is a manifestation of his exploration into these ideas and reflection upon them.
“[The Menil show] essentially maps out the whole history of human attempts to record their hearts and minds,” Robleto said. “That’s a story that can be told in multiple ways: through technology … but also through reflecting upon human beings’ belief that there can be real emotional content in those signals.”
Robleto uses a variety of mediums to demonstrate various early human attempts to intentionally or unintentionally record human emotion, including written histories, recordings of early artificial hearts and even visual sculptures.
“My hope is that someone can just walk in and choose between multiple access points,” Robleto said. “However, wherever you choose to enter in on this story, I think it should be clear that you are learning about a human quest to record our hearts and our minds. I always design shows such that they can be entered in multiple ways, yet I do want there to be that anchor that holds everything together.”
Robleto said capturing science as art and art as science is also an inherently useful exercise toward better understanding both fields.
“My job as an artist is to examine creativity across the whole spectrum, because I’m interested in it as just a human impulse, wherever it goes,” Robleto said. “It’s clear to me that there are times in science when it clearly crosses the boundary over to art. However, scientists often aren’t prepared to think of it that way, because we’re all stuck in our categories. I’m trying to break down those divides, particularly because I’m convinced that we can help each other through having these conversations.”
To further address this theme of using art and science to the benefit of each other, Robleto is working with a scientist who is attempting to map the brain waves of people having aesthetic experiences by allowing him to study people visiting the exhibition. Not only does Robleto feel that he can help science as a whole through this experiment, but he feels it is an opportunity to help move towards Ann’s goal of translating recordings of human emotion back into the emotion itself.
“One of my ultimate goals is to offer Ann [Druyan] an update to her story,” Robleto said. “I think Ann always assumed that deciphering her brain and heart would take millions of years and some amazing technology from some other intelligence — she set it up not knowing it would ever work. I would love to be able to tell her that we are close to doing this now, on our own planet.”
Robleto was spontaneously given the chance to showcase his work at the Menil by curator Michelle White over lunch.
“The Menil is such a perfect venue for this project because of its long history of embracing optimism about the future and the capacity of art to cross over fields,” Robleto said. “The museum has a long track record of displaying humanistic endeavors and hope about human capabilities. The story of figuring out how to record our hearts and minds thus fits perfectly.”
Robleto’s exhibition will be on display at the Menil until January 4. He will also continue his fellowship at Rice to further research the connection between art and science, interact with students and lecture about his work.
“We’re doing things on our own planet that no one would’ve thought was possible 50 years ago,” Robleto said. “To me, these are all hopeful steps towards accomplishing Ann’s dream of finding a way to decipher the mind and heart.”
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