“Dario Robleto: The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed” examines the psychological and emotional ramifications of crossing unknown boundaries whether in space, the sea, or through exploring the human body by linking two remarkable undertakings in the 1960s: the space race and development of the artificial heart. Commissioned and developed through a research residency with the Menil Collection and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston, the exhibition is the culmination of Robleto’s research realized as an installation that includes new sculptures by the artist, rare historical recordings, and objects from the Menil Collection and archives, along with a series of public programs.

“Robleto’s fascinating inquiry led him to explore untapped aspects of our collection. The materials and objects that he has assembled complement and support his larger goals not only as an artist, but as a researcher who has worked closely with members of the medical and scientific community to realize this project,” says Michelle White, curator of the exhibit.

The exhibition is anchored by “Things Placed in the Sea, Become the Sea,” 2013-14. The sculpture is comprised of a remarkable assortment of sea urchin shells, melted vinyl records salvaged from the deep sea, stretched audiotape recordings, crystals, minerals, rock slabs, seashells, sea urchin teeth, planetary imagery, and news and magazine clippings. Evoking a sense of curiosity and wonder, the sculpture brings together the exhibit’s cosmic, oceanic, and biologic themes.

As a part of his project, Robleto has brought together his research about how the heartbeat has been recorded in the 19th and 20th centuries. Visitors can examine early heartbeat recordings from a sphygmograph or “pulse writer” and hear five recordings of heartbeats while reading about their very intimate histories. Recordings include re-creations of early attempts to record the heart, heartbeat and EKG recordings onboard a NASA probe, and the sounds of recent and cutting-edge developments in artificial-heart research. The emphasis on recordings in the exhibition inspired a gallery guide designed as “liner notes” that one might find accompanying a vinyl record. Written by Robleto and Patrick Feaster, a historian of early sound media, entries describe stories of love, loss, and intimacy via the way scientists have studied the human heart.

Robleto’s ability to raise profound questions through his work and his desire to facilitate dialogues are crucial components of the exhibition. White says “Robleto’s goal is to challenge and augment the way in which the scientific and medical worlds understand the emotional ramifications of their role in perpetually extending the physical and theoretical boundaries of life.”

Robleto poses the idea that perhaps it is only through a conversation between art and science that certain questions can be asked – that an artist’s more poetic vocabulary is better suited to grappling with these shifting boundaries.

Robleto is known for his labor-intensive sculptural work that transforms materials and is layered with meaning. His work draws from science, music, popular culture, philosophy, war, and American history. His techniques in working with diverse materials have been compared to the work of disc jockeys who sample, mix, and weave together different sounds to create something entirely new. Born in San Antonio, Robleto is based in Houston. Since 1997, he has had more than thirty solo exhibitions. The recipient of several awards and fellowships, he was also the subject of exhibitions at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

This exhibition was commissioned and developed in a joint research residency with the Menil Collection, Houston and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, University of Houston.

This exhibition 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.

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