"The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto" is the Block Museum’s newest exhibition that opened on Jan. 27. Robleto is the first "Artist-at-Large" at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Since 2018, the Artist-at-Large Program has encouraged interdisciplinary interactions between the arts and sciences. Contemporary artists come to Northwestern’s campus, and immerse themselves in the world of scientific research, processes and collaboration. "The Heart’s Knowledge" is representative of Dario Robleto’s collaboration with McCormick.

Michael Metzger is the Pick-Laudati curator of media arts at The Block Museum and the curator of "The Heart’s Knowledge." Moving images punctuate much of his curation and educational efforts at Northwestern. He said that Northwestern is the perfect place to initiate dialogues across the arts and sciences.

Michael: The Block [Museum] is the right place for it, because we really do see ourselves as an interdisciplinary hub, a convening space, one of the most critical spaces on campus where people from different disciplines can come together. Northwestern, I think, sometimes lacks those central kinds of cohesive spaces where people are coming together across the disciplines.

Pulling examples from advancements in technology, such as the first recorded heartbeats, Robleto poses questions about the emotional consequences of these breakthroughs. More importantly, he is concerned with the possibility of enhancing our capacity for empathy.

Dario: The show lays out various proposals and how to do that; both in human history, but also more expansively. My wildest question is: is empathetic behavior a feature of all intelligent life across the cosmos? That's a much weirder and more difficult question.

One piece in particular represents Robleto’s struggle to answer that question.

American Seabed (2014) features fossilized prehistoric whale ear bones and various butterflies whose antennae are made from audiotape of Bob Dylan’s song “Desolation Row.” It asks the question: does proximity aid in our quest to communicate, or hinder these opportunities? Michael Metzger said that it might be an advantage.

Photo taken by Jade Thomas of the sculpture American Seabed by Dario Robleto

Michael: Communication can be simply a form of co-presence, you know, being together with another person or being, you know, without exchanging words, you can still communicate and you can know another person that way.

The Aorta of an Archivist (2020-2021) is a fifty-three minute film that attempts to reconcile with the idea of the forever widening space between two points. It grapples with the human ability to recognize and transcend boundaries of knowledge and what it means when we are unable to do so.

The film celebrates three firsts in recording history: the first time live music was recorded, the first time brain waves were recorded in a dream state and the first time the human heart was recorded while an individual was listening to music. What was once thought to be impossible is the norm. Yet, Robleto asks: what do we as listeners of the future owe to those speakers of the past?

The notion of owing sincerity to one another is the major theme of Dario Robleto’s exhibition. As emphasized by the pace of scientific advancement and the rate of the universe itself, Robleto argues that the scarcity of time should result in an abundance of empathy.

For Generation Z, it still feels difficult to bridge boundaries, despite various communication technologies. Robleto said that the only way to contend with these technological dilemmas is with art.

Dario: Given the capacity to record everything all the time, why does it oddly feel like we have less time? That, to me, is a threat to empathetic behavior; if you can no longer feel that you're aligned with someone at the same time and space. So I don't know the answer. But I am identifying this problem that I want to explore. I think art will be part of the solution.

For NBN Audio, I’m Jade Thomas.

Thumbnail photo taken by Jade Thomas.