The deep sea is one of the least understood regions of the planet. For artist Dario Robleto, its exploration along with that of outer space and our own human biology challenge the unseen boundaries of life. In Things Placed in the Sea, Become the Sea, recently acquired by the Menil Collection, Robleto layers these areas of exploration and the connection between them to examine our understanding of what it means to be human.
Things Placed in the Sea, Become the Sea is a smaller modification of a work Robleto created for his 2014 exhibition at the Menil, Dario Robleto: The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed. The show was commissioned and developed in a joint residency with the Menil Collection and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, University of Houston. The commission emerged out of research Robleto conducted with the medical and scientific communities in Houston. Presenting all new sculpture alongside objects from the museum’s collection, the exhibition wove together a diverse collection of sounds, ideas, personal narratives, and scientific research to link together two remarkable undertakings that took place in the United States in the 1960s: the space race and the development of the artificial human heart, both of which have close relationships to Houston. Robleto’s goal was to challenge and augment the way the scientific and medical worlds understand the emotional ramifications of their role in perpetually extending the physical and theoretical boundaries of life.
In Things Placed in the Sea, Robleto encapsulated his research by meditating on the human desire to connect with and apprehend the least known realms of human knowledge: the deep sea, the outer limits of space, and our own biology, especially the human heart. To illustrate these parallels, he brings together a variety of materials related to man’s exploration of the biological, cosmic, and aquatic terrains. Here, seashells and sea urchin spines mingle with images of Sputnik and the Liotta-Cooley artificial heart. Newspaper articles, culled from the Associated Press and the New York Times, discuss space probes that have lost their connections with Earth and the scientific teams that continue to wait for their signals, for a sign of life. Melted vinyl records—a signature medium Robleto has long explored as a symbolic distillation of sound—salvaged from the ocean floor are incorporated into the work, binding together mysterious and invented sea creatures. Through this comingling, Robleto also draws out the formal similarities of the scientific devices and the aquatic shell–encrusted forms with radiating appendages. They are all designed to withstand incredible pressure.