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The Heart's Knowledge

At the Intersection of Art and Engineering

Dario Robleto, Lisa Corrin, and Dean Julio Ottino viewing The Heart's Knowledge
Artist Dario Robleto, Dean Julio M. Ottino, and Block Museum of Art executive director Lisa Graziose Corrin observe American Seabed (Robleto, 2014), a series of sculptures composed partially of fossilized prehistoric whale ear bones and various butterflies.

The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto, a 2023 exhibition at the Block Museum of Art, urges visitors to remember the human meaning hidden within scientific discoveries. The installation marks the culmination of Robleto’s five-year engagement as Northwestern Engineering’s inaugural Artist-at-Large, where he explored conversations and collaborations with scientists and engineers around ethics and empathy in scientific fields.


Artist-at-Large Dario Robleto introduces his 2023 exhibition, The Heart’s Knowledge, at the Block Museum of Art.


This partnership between the Block Museum and the McCormick School of Engineering gave the artist an open “hall pass” to learn from, collaborate with, and question scientists, engineers, and experts from across the University.


McCormick's Artist-at-Large Program


For Robleto, 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 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.

Dario Robleto

The exhibit, Robleto says, is inspired by Ann Druyan, a member of the 1972 team that placed a golden record on the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecrafts. Druyan’s job as creative director was to produce an audio portrait of the planet, adding sounds such as crickets chirping and wolves howling. In a radical step, she also included recordings of her own heartbeat and brain waves, wondering whether aliens could eventually read her mind if they came across one of the Voyager probes. In addition to history and facts about life on Earth, Druyan also “smuggled love on board the Voyager” thinking about her recent engagement to scientist Carl Sagan.

Heartbeat monitor prints
The First Time, the Heart (A Portrait of Life 1854–1913), portfolio 2017.Robleto transformed early measurements of heartbeats made by 19th pioneers of cardiography into exquisite photolithographs on paper hand-sooted with candle flames.
3d printed brass heartbeats
Unknown and Solitary Seas (Dreams and Emotions of the 19th Century), 2018 [detail].This portrays the earliest recordings of blood flowing from the heart and in the brain during sleep, dreaming, and various emotional states.
Golden record installation
The Pulse Armed with a Pen (An Unknown History of the Human Heartbeat), 2014.Robleto collaborated with sound historian Patrick Feaster to digitally resurrect heartbeats in audio form, allowing visitors to listen to pulses of life recorded before the invention of sound playback.
American Seabed, 2014
American Seabed, 2014.Made from fossilized prehistoric whale ear bones salvaged from the sea, various butterflies, and butterfly antennae made from stretched and pulled audiotape recordings of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row.”
Sisyphus' Archivists hanging installation
Sisyphus' Archivists, 2018.Portraits of Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan, and Frank Drake are framed by phrases that acknowledge the vastness of space and the infinitesimal odds of making contact with other lifeforms.
Quilled paper installation
The Computer of Jupiter, 2019.The piece is part of a collection that dramatizes the challenges of interspecies communication across boundaries of epoch, habitat, and bodily sensation.
Frames images of spotlights displayed as galaxies
Survival Does Not Lie in the Heavens, 2012.Digital inkjet print mounted on Sintra, a collection of stage lights taken from the album covers of live performances of now-deceased gospel, blues, and jazz musicians.
Framed spotlights
The Sky, Once Choked with Stars, Will Slowly Darken, 2011.Suite of eight archival digital prints.
Shell sculpture installation
Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas, 2018.Intricate sculptures made from polished nautilus shells and other sea life give shape to the speculative search for intelligent life in the universe.
Galaxy print
The Boundary of Life Is Quietly Crossed, 2019.Two-channel 4K video.

Photography by Jason Brown

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