A photo of an ornate orange, yelllow, and red motif surrounding a tall vessel

Detail of Dario Robleto’s “The Computer of Jupiter” (2019), various cut and polished seashells, urchin spines, cut and quilled paper, squilla claws, colored powder pigments, colored plastic beads, acrylic domes, brass rod, colored and mirrored Plexiglas, glue, acrylic on wood, 48 x 19 x 19 inches overall with base and vitrine. All images courtesy of the artist, shared with permission

What do we owe to the memories of one another’s hearts? This central question resonates throughout the exhibition The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto jointly presented by Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art and the McCormick School of Engineering, running January 26 through July 9, 2023, in Evanston, Illinois.

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 phenomena at scales ranging from the intimate to the universal, returning always to the question: does empathy extend beyond the boundaries of time and space?


A photo of a sculpture with sparkling details and two curved sides

Detail of Dario Robleto’s “Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas” (2018), cut and polished nautilus shells, various cut and polished seashells, various urchin spines and teeth, mushroom coral, green and white tusks, squilla claws, butterfly wings, colored pigments and beads, colored crushed glass and glitter, dyed mica flakes, pearlescent paint, cut paper, acrylic domes, brass rods, colored mirrored Plexiglas, glue, maple, 75 x 71 1/2 x 43 inches

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 digitally resurrects these historic heartbeats, allowing visitors to listen to pulses of life recorded before the invention of sound playback. 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.

The companion publication is currently available through Artbook.

The Block Museum of Art is always free and open to all. To learn more, visit blockmuseum.northwestern.edu.


An image of gold waves

Detail of Dario Robleto’s “Unknown and Solitary Seas (Dreams and Emotions of the 19th Century)” (2018), earliest waveform recordings of blood flowing from the heart and in the brain during sleep, dreaming, and various emotional states (1874–96), rendered and 3D printed in brass-plated stainless steel; lacquered maple, 22k gold leaf, video, waveform audio processing by Patrick Feaster Box (closed): 2 1/4 x 21 1/4 x 25 1/4” inches, with pedestal and vitrine 45 x 51 x 31 1/4 inches

A photo of a person sitting in front of a screen showing a surreal black and white image

Dario Robleto, “The Aorta of an Archivist” (2021), UHD video, 5.1 surround sound installation; running time: 53:00

A photo of an installation of bones topped wth butterflies

Detail of Dario Robleto’s “American Seabed” (2014), fossilized prehistoric whale ear bones salvaged from the sea (1 to 10 million years), various butterflies, butterfly antennae made from stretched and pulled audiotape recordings of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” concrete, ocean water, pigments, coral, brass, steel, Plexiglas, 37 x 68 x 55 overall without pedestal

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