By Tucker Costello
Dario Robleto calls himself a “materialist poet.” Drawing inspiration from music and his own experiences, Robleto conceptualizes an art piece and begins by writing down the materials he has in mind. From melted vinyl to crushed sea horses, the materials he uses range from the everyday to the obscure. He explains that while writing these lists his thought process jumps from one place to another until he has a concrete idea of what he wants to use for materials, but he rarely has a specific result in mind.
On September 27th 2008, Dario Robleto’s show Alloy of Love opened at the Tang Museum. Occupying the entire second floor, Alloy of Love represents ten years of Robleto’s artistic narrative, from his earlier work with records to his later works dealing with war and human emotion. Robleto says that this show is “the first time [he’s] been able to pluck examples from all of [his] shows.”
Robleto strives to “capture the soul” in his work. This is best illustrated in The Diva Surgery (2000-2001) where he attempts to extract the physical “souls” of many female recording artists, from Björk to Ella Fitzgerald. He does this by manipulating each of their vinyl records, and in some cases audio tapes, in order to distill their voices from the media they were transcribed on. This particular piece evokes nostalgia and inquiry with a juxtaposition of Victorian tonsil extractors and crushed audiotape in butterfly nectar.
Despite Robleto’s interest in the soul and the essence of human emotion, there is always controversy surrounding his work. The Creative Potential of Disease is a framed doll created by a “Civil War Union soldier amputee while recovering in the hospital.” According to the artist’s description, the doll’s uniform was “mended and repaired” using material from “a modern day soldier’s uniform.” A leg for the doll was cast using the dust of a femur bone. The controversy of a piece like this lies in the reconstruction of an artifact or the defiling of history. Robleto justifies his belief that people in the 21st century are removed from damage. He said that by dealing directly with materials like bone dust he could make everyone understand what happens on the battlefield; “men turn to dust.” He wants to challenge his audience to grant new narratives to forgotten histories.
However, in spite of his critics, Robleto continues to be inspired and has lots more that he wants to create when the time is right. His sensitivity extends not only to the materials he uses but the appropriateness of timing as well. Robleto’s work is a refreshing perspective on a modern society that often wishes to only see that which is safe and beautiful; bone dust can be beautiful too.