Dario Robleto: The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed

Aug 16, 2014 – Jan 4, 2015
Main Building

Artist Dario Robleto (b. 1972) has long explored emotional themes of the human condition, including love, loss, and grief. His sculptural work, which is labor-intensive and many times involves the transformation of materials, distills these complex and universal states into meditations on fragility and change.

This site-specific project at the Menil revolves around his most recent area of inquiry: the largely unexplored history of the human heartbeat. The installation and series of public talks will link together the earliest historical attempts to record and visualize the human pulse and heartbeat, the female brain wave and heartbeat recordings onboard a NASA probe at the edge of the Solar System, and recent developments in artificial heart research that suggest a “beatless” heart may hold the answers for this life-saving technology to progress.

Robleto’s research has gradually expanded to examine those in unique positions who monitor contemporary forms of loss that raise analogous issues; for example, scientists monitoring the demise of glaciers, longevity researchers studying the oldest people on the planet, and audio historians on a quest to find the oldest sound recordings ever made. For the artist, these areas of study and the connections between them provide a framework to examine our larger understanding of existence, and of the positions held by certain individuals in our contemporary moment that stand at new thresholds of life and death. As unique to our time as the moon landing and artificial heart were to earlier generations, new discoveries in these fields of inquiry pose ideological obstacles as well as moral and theoretical challenges to our understanding of what it means to be human.

Dario Robleto: The Boundary of Life Is Quietly Crossed has been commissioned and developed through a joint research residency with the Menil Collection and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, University of Houston. As the culmination of the artist’s research, the project realized at the Menil is a sculptural assemblage including rare historical recordings and objects made by the artist. It is being examined and contemplated in a series of public programs conceived of by the artist and bringing Houston’s greatest scientific resources, the medical community, and NASA together with the art world. In so doing, Robleto poses the idea that perhaps it is only through a conversation between art and science that certain questions can be asked. Perhaps the more poetic vocabulary offered by an artist is better suited to helping us grapple with the ramifications of the shifting boundaries of life.

Dario Robleto: The Boundary of Life Is Quietly Crossed is curated by Michelle White, Curator.

This exhibition was commissioned and developed in a joint residency with the Menil Collection, Houston and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, University of Houston. It is generously supported by Chinhui and Eddie Allen; Robert J. Card, MD and Karol Kreymer; Jereann and Holland Chaney; Allison and David Ayers; The Brown Foundation; Brad and Leslie Bucher; Anne and Jack Moriniere; Bridget and Patrick Wade; and the City of Houston.

Photos: Paul Hester

In 1977, Ann Druyan included the sound of her own heartbeat on the Golden Record, a portrait of Earth comprised of natural sounds, images, musical selections, and spoken greetings that was placed aboard the unmanned space probes Voyager 1 and 2. Dario Robleto joins Druyan in a discussion of the creation of the Golden Record and the relationship between science, art, emotion, and the human desire for long-term preservation. Dario Robleto: The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed weaves together a diverse collection of sounds, ideas, personal narratives, and scientific and technological research to link two remarkable undertakings that took place in the 1960s: the space race and development of the artificial heart.