June 27, 2023 Artist Dario Robleto Culminates Multiyear Exploration of NASA’s Golden Record with New Film and Solo Exhibition Debuting at the Carter in 2024

Multiple bones mounted atop gold rods with butterflies attached to each creating a sort of "forest."

The presentation of Robleto’s film is accompanied by related sculptures and works on paper arranged in collaboration with astronaut John Herrington

Fort Worth, TX, June 27, 2023 (Updated February 20, 2024)—Internationally celebrated Texas artist Dario Robleto’s solo exhibition Dario Robleto: The Signal debuts at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (the Carter) in May 2024. Known for his multidisciplinary, research-driven approach, Robleto in his work probes questions about the order of the universe and the human-made systems we employ to perceive and describe it. Spanning film, sculpture, and works on paper, Dario Robleto: The Signal represents the culmination of Robleto’s multiyear exploration of the Golden Record, the gold-plated phonograph disk containing sounds and images selected by a team at NASA to portray life on Earth to extraterrestrials. Part of the Voyager Interstellar Message Project, the Record is currently traversing the sun’s outer reaches aboard the twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts, launched in 1977. Supported by related sculptures and works on paper, the centerpiece of the exhibition is Robleto’s newly commissioned work Ancient Beacons Long for Notice, an immersive, 60-minute film based on a rare and forgotten document—the first audio recording of warfare—which was considered for inclusion on the Golden Record. Co-organized with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA), Dario Robleto: The Signal premieres at the Carter on May 12 and will be on view through October 27, 2024, after which it will travel to Santa Barbara, where it will be on view November 15 through March 9, 2025.

Ancient Beacons Long for Notice is the third and final installment in a trilogy of video and sound installations that comprise Robleto’s years-long investigation of the scientific, philosophical, and moral tensions of recording human life. The film was co-commissioned by the Carter and SBMA.

Presented in the Carter’s galleries in a black-box format, the video installation is accompanied by a selection of Robleto’s works on paper and sculptures that augment the story of the film. Varying across mediums, the grouping of more than 18 works includes selections from his print portfolio The First Time, the Heart (A Portrait of Life 1854-1913) (2018), featuring images of heartbeat waveform recordings from the 19th and early 20th centuries; Unknown and Solitary Seas (Dreams and Emotions of the 19th Century) (2018), 3D-printed golden-colored renderings of the earliest waveform recordings of blood flowing from the heart and into the brain; and Survival Does Not Lie in the Heavens (2012), digital prints that assemble stage lights taken from the album covers of live performances of now-deceased gospel, blues, and jazz musicians to form constellations. Taken together, these works reflect the artist’s ongoing meditation on the recording of human existence.

“We are thrilled to present the work of Dario Robleto, one of the most celebrated Texas artists living and working today,” said Andrew J. Walker, Executive Director of the Carter. “American artists have long shared with scientists a drive to uncover the unknowns about ourselves and the world around us, and Dario’s work is exemplary of that universal passion. It also feels particularly resonant that his new film will debut alongside the Carter’s exhibition Moving Pictures: Karl Struss and the Rise of Hollywood—creating a dialogue between Robleto’s bold celestial imagery and the historic cinematographer's imaginative aesthetics, an exhibition pairing that showcases two artists reimagining the mediums of visual storytelling, and that exemplifies the Museum’s mode of bridging the past and present.”

Based in Houston, Robleto is a multidisciplinary artist, researcher, materialist poet, and self-proclaimed citizen-scientist. Until recently, he created modern-day Wunderkammern, assembling found and manipulated objects in intricate, handcrafted displays akin to the 19th-century curiosity cabinet. In 2019, he departed from sculpture to attend to his new focus—a project comprising three films, and the creation of a book co-authored with art historian Jennifer Roberts, that addresses recordings throughout the ages of human existence and how we convey messages across time.

With his collaborators, Skye Ashbrook, Wylie Earnhart, and Bill Haddad, Robleto created films that feature rich soundscapes, an original score, and dynamic visuals sourced from still images of historical events, NASA footage, videos of his own lab experiments, and generated animations. Drawing inspiration from the PBS documentary series Cosmos, Robleto narrates his works in an approach more traditionally associated with science broadcasts. By subverting this format, Robleto simultaneously inserts the artistic perspective into scientific discourse while positioning scientific endeavors, like the Golden Record, within the art historical canon. The first two films in the series, The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed (2019) and The Aorta of an Archivist (2021), trace several "firsts" in the history of recording, including heartbeats, brainwaves, and significant moments in voice and sound.

In a special collaboration, as part of the Carter’s presentation, Robleto has invited NASA astronaut John Herrington to arrange the presentation of the artist’s heartbeat waveform drawings, a selection from The First Time, the Heart (A Portrait of Life 1854-1913). In this way, Herrington is akin to the target audience for the Voyager Interstellar Message Project, receiving a “golden record” of 19th-century humanity through the EKG smoke drawings—objects of the past that catalogue the human emotions of that time, telling a multitude of stories depending on how Herrington chooses to arrange them.

Herrington—the first Native American to enter space as a flight engineer aboard the Endeavour space shuttle in 2002—also brings to this collaboration a profound understanding of the significance of representation. To accompany him on the Endeavour, Herrington brought a collection of eagle feathers, arrowheads, wooden flutes, and flags of the Chickasaw and Crow Nations, of which he is a member. Just as Robleto explores what it means to represent and curate an image of life on Earth, Herrington bore the responsibility of representing the Chickasaw and Crow Nations on not just a global, but interstellar level.

Robleto’s third film, Ancient Beacons Long for Notice, explores the backstory and philosophical debate surrounding the creation of the Golden Record by examining two understudied audio recordings—one selected for inclusion on the Record, the other omitted. Produced by American astronomer Carl Sagan, his wife-to-be Ann Druyan, and a team of scientists, the Golden Record is, in its final form, a hopeful gesture, purposefully edited to put humanity’s "best face forward" in a first-contact scenario. The Record’s content, selected by the NASA team, includes images, a range of sounds found in nature, and audio chosen to represent humanity—including music, spoken greetings, footsteps, laughter, and a “life signs” recording submitted by Ann Druyan, Creative Director of the Voyager Interstellar Message Project. The “life signs” audio is produced by the electricity of Druyan’s brain and heart when connected to an electroencephalogram (EEG) and an electrocardiogram (EKG). Supported by interviews with Druyan, Robleto’s film focuses on this audio and what Druyan was thinking during the EEG and EKG recordings, which she created with the goal of relaying messages through her thoughts—messages of love but also of the pain we can cause one another, bringing in aspects of humanity that were left off of the Record by the larger team. Robleto focuses on Druyan’s contemplation of the question of whether love can be perceived through sounds and pictures transported through millennia. Simultaneously, the film examines a rare and forgotten file that was considered for inclusion in the Record—the first audio recording of warfare—made in 1918 during the final month of World War I. Notably, the Record contains no visible trace of war, injustice, famine, or environmental decay, and it’s these omissions that Robleto’s work asks the viewer to confront, questioning our moral obligation to present a “full accounting” of our actions when constructing the memory of humanity, as well as who has the right to curate that narrative.

“One of the many powerful elements of Dario’s work is its versatility and the poetics of his words and imagery—he is able to at once convey the sense of discovery, melancholy, and sublimity felt when comparing the vastness of outer space to the lifespan of human civilization,” said Margaret Adler, the Carter’s Curator of Paintings, Sculpture, and Works on Paper. “With Voyager 1 soon to exit our solar system and, therefore, its final contact with us approaching, we are especially honored to have commissioned this film and this exhibition, which are really about love and loss and speak to how we, as humans, have told our story in the past and how we will continue to do so throughout the ages.”

“Dario makes art about the painful yet beautiful paradoxes of being human, of beholding the infinity of the universe, but knowing full well we are finite and mortal. Of staring into the nighttime sky and knowing the stars will remain out of reach for us on earth,” says James Glisson, Curator of Contemporary Art, Santa Barbara Museum of Art. “The opportunity to co-commission a film by Dario and to do so with the esteemed Carter is a rare opportunity. Ancient Beacons Long for Notice will no doubt find a receptive audience in the rich film culture of California.”

Dario Robleto: The Signal is organized by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The film Ancient Beacons Long for Notice is made possible in part by VIA Art Fund. The Carter’s presentation of the exhibition is supported in part by the Alice L. Walton Foundation Temporary Exhibitions Endowment.

Image: Dario Robleto (b. 1972), American Seabed (detail), 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, Courtesy of the artist, © Dario Robleto

About the Amon Carter Museum of American Art

Located in the heart of Fort Worth’s Cultural District, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (the Carter) is a dynamic cultural resource that provides unique access and insight into the history and future of American creativity through its expansive exhibitions and programming. The Carter’s preeminent collection includes masterworks by legendary American artists such as Ruth Asawa, Alexander Calder, Frederic Church, Stuart Davis, Robert Duncanson, Thomas Eakins, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, and John Singer Sargent, as well as one of the country’s foremost repositories of American photography. In addition to its innovative exhibition program and engagement with artists working today, the Museum’s premier primary research collection and leading conservation program make it a must-see destination for art lovers and scholars of all ages nationwide. Admission is always free. To learn more about the Carter, visit cartermuseum.org.