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Dario Robleto

interview transcript

Date of Interview: May 01, 2003
Location: USA
Topic: Interview with Dario Robleto
Interviewer: Miki Garcia

LatinArt:  Your work has quixotic and even romantic aspirations, yet you genuinely want to produce objects that have actual bearing on the world at large. Can you describe this impulse?

Dario Robleto:  This impulse has a long and complicated history for me but in short can be located in two central ideas. One is my lifelong interests in the fields of science, sports, politics, music, etc. Art for me is a relatively recent pursuit and in all my other interests, I had grown accustomed to "results" so to speak; the immediacy of fulfilling an objective in sports for example, or the history of medical research to save lives.

This is a more general reason and the second more specific one came about after I had devoted my life to art. As I began to "catch up" with the art world I was so struck, especially through my schooling, at how theory had been filtered down to a whole generation of artists. Specifically a pessimistic, ironic, "whatever could be done has been done" sort of interpretation. One of the great criticisms of this generation has been our disengagement with politics, history, and any sense whatsoever of producing change through our artworks. I have never bought into that and because of my interest in sampling and hip-hop, I've seen the potential to actively counter this tendency. So many of my projects start off at least with the mind state of believing they can engage with the world at large. And just believing that can lead you in many interesting directions.

LatinArt:  The process by which you create work is incredibly elliptical and you have said that you often conceive of and develop an idea before locating an object or physical representation. Also, in the case of I Won't Let You Say Goodbye This Time - now on display at the Whitney at Altria-the course of development took several years. Please discuss how this process unfolds.

Dario Robleto:  Yes, I would say that 90% of the time I only start out with a title. So the hours I put into the titles or words at the very least equals the time put into the object's construction. This has also to do with my background in other fields like poetry, literature, and lyrics. Letting language dictate a form is an unusual way of going about making an object. Or for that matter, letting a smell of a chemical or the particular frequency of a drum beat influence an object.

The borders I find between fields are usually tightly held, such as ideas of "purity" which I find quite silly and constraining. That kind of language for example, is somehow a crutch or sign of weakness in the object's final presentation. So, I think that what appears as elliptical is in fact the way we comprehend the world already. I don't know a world that isn't fragmented or existing on multi-levels at every moment. Textually, audibly, visually, etc. How can all these things not be addressed in how you experience an art work?

With I Won't Let You Say Goodbye This Time all these issues are taken into account and this piece required an even greater level of research than normal because of the sensitive nature of the subject matter I was dealing with. Integrity is a big issue for me and I will never release something until I am sure all the facts are accurate.

LatinArt:  Can we talk about why you are attracted to a kind of hybrid approach to art making that mixes and interweaves sources and references from popular culture, science, natural history, literature and your own biography?

Dario Robleto:  What is interesting about this question is that I wouldn't even say I am "attracted" to this kind of approach. The way you know you have left a certain moment is when you no longer even reflect on the specifics of that moment. What I mean is that I find no use in locating myself in a "postmodern" moment because it is already a given. All I know is a chopped up world. I didn't have to ponder the potentials of that world as a generation of theorists and artists did. I am surprised when someone doesn't use a hybrid approach. What this moment will be about, what it is already about, will be pushing hybridity into new territory and laying a ground work for new conceptual thinking. You notice I use the word "new" because I categorically deny the idea that there can be nothing original anymore. I refuse to accept it and that would imply that I have moved beyond a pessimistic, postmodern moment. I have left open the door to the possibility of originality! I am amazed anyone would ever have to say that.

LatinArt:  Music is a central device in your work. In particular, you tap into DJ culture, vinyl collecting, and sampling diverse genres of music. Your work is often the manifestation of melting, distilling, and recasting records into objects. How does music inform your work?

Dario Robleto:  This would be another case of cross-pollination in my work. Music, it can be argued, is the most immediate, visceral and tangible of the art forms. I mean tangible in the sense of what you asked earlier about art doing anything anymore in the real world. Music's history in inciting immediate action for or against a variety of political causes or emotional ones is one that I cherish. It has an ability to get things done that other art forms lack. I am hoping that I can feed off that kind of energy in my work. I am still invested in objects but I am putting quite a bit of hope into the idea that one art form can be imbued with the best of another and together they can produce something unique.

I am trying to utilize the techniques of DJ culture and electronically produced music because I see in them potential for reinvigorating artists in their conceptual and political concerns as well as on a material and scientific level.

LatinArt:  You sometimes utilizes characteristically feminine materials and themes like perfume bottles, Billie Holiday records, and concepts of romantic love. What role does gender or gender bending play?

Dario Robleto:  I would separate the concepts of romance and gender in my work although they often intertwine. Gender for me is a concept that is as free to be played with as concepts of ethnicity or any other category. I am extremely interested in concepts of a "third sex," or eunuchs, or hermaphrodites or any other number of fuzzy gender roles. Besides the pure artistic play possible with these ambiguous states, I am ultimately interested in the biology behind them.

A critique of science is another ongoing theme in my work. I am specifically interested in biological thought becoming social thought such as Darwinism trying to messily apply itself to social and racial issues for example. Or the ongoing battle between genetic and environmental explanations for sexual preference. When people try to use science for their own moral agendas it always gets messy and as an artist, anything I can do to pull the legs out from under that judgmental, scientifically based "truth" position, I will do.

LatinArt:  Men are the New Women broaches many issues that you have just talked about. By grinding a human female ribcage bone and re-molding it into a male rib cage, you are consciously upsetting the laws of nature and challenging Creationist theories that classify roles of women and men. What kind of impact do you think this work will have?

Dario Robleto:  What always intrigued me about this story was not only that there were no women until a man got lonely but-on a material level-women weren't even allowed their own new set of molecules!

This leads into some interesting issues with the previous gender question you posed. I hope the impact though will be to reflect on how history is written. Who is writing it and why? The ripple or trickle down effects of one story can be so profound thousands of years later. "The patriarchal way" - on the whole the world has been ruled and every criticism that can be applied to that world can be traced back to this story. So I wanted to make an art work that at least entertained the possibility that we got it wrong. And what are we going to do about it? If an archaeologist dug this up tomorrow, would that information even be released I wonder? Everything would be pulled out from under us. This little ribs' ambition is to suggest maybe we need to start over.

LatinArt:  The array of materials you employ is staggering: human bones, cosmic matter, glass produced from lighting and sand, etc. How do you acquire them and why is it so important to use authentic materials?

Dario Robleto:  I have always believed that there is an artistry to finding things. You often have to imagine it to find it. I take great pride in my ability to imagine and then actually track down these things. But I find it not very different than a DJ digging through countless old crates to find that one lost sample. The one that will give the track the aura and sense of history so crucial to much sample based music. I don't think I could be as good a finder if I hadn't put my time in digging through those crates. They are literally the dustbins of history.

Also I am simply a material scientist. But where most material science or science in general is based on the physical, real life "stuff" of things I have invested myself in exploring the metaphorical or intangible stuff of things. Can history somehow take a tangible form? This is such a complex question because it ultimately leads to questions of faith which I am still grappling with. Because for things to be what we think they are we have to recognize our role in their meaning.

The Shroud of Turin for example is for me the very definition of romance-the ability to believe that something can be more than what it seems and not just because you say so but because it REALLY is there. It is crucial for me to use the certain materials I say I use because I have a belief that they do possess what we think we can never hold in our hands.

LatinArt:  We also discussed the fact that you take the time to shape and create each object by hand. Is it important for you to have a physical relationship with the object?

Dario Robleto:  It is incredibly crucial for me to personally make everything I put out into the world. Issues of detachment in a digital, "post-human" world are certainly part of this reasoning, although it is not a judgmental stance. I would compare it to a turntablist and a studio knob turner. I love the final results of both but there is a physicality to hand manipulating and sweating over a record that I identify with. I know this has much to do with my love of sports and a silly, romantic belief I still hold onto that you should hurt a little when making something. And my objects are often not very fun to make because of the toxicity or physical labor involved since I often have no assistance. But on the other hand I have still yet to find a thrill quite like the one when I have mixed some things together that shouldn't have been mixed and it barely seems it will hold itself together but somehow does.

Since 2001, Miki Garcia has held the position of Project Coordinator at the Public Art Fund in New York. In this post, she manages a program devoted to emerging artists entitled "In the Public Realm" and curates an annual group exhibition at MetroTech Center in Brooklyn, NY. She has organized numerous solo exhibitions with artists Mark Handforth, Clara Williams, Jonah Freeman, Anissa Mack, and Josiah McElheney. Previously, Ms. Garcia worked as a Curatorial Associate at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego where she worked on many permanent collection and traveling exhibitions. Ms. Garcia received her M.A. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1999 and her B.A. from Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY in 1994.

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