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Science, Love, and Wonder: Thoughts from Conversation with the Artist: Ann Druyan & Dario Robleto at The Menil Collection

Science, Love, and Wonder: Thoughts from Conversation with the Artist: Ann Druyan & Dario Robleto at The Menil Collection
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Featured image: Twin Pulse, 1890, 2013-14, Dario Robleto.
19th century daguerreotype case and daguerreotype, print on vintage paper, 19th century dried flower, velvet, glass, tape, string.
Courtesy of the artist and Inman Gallery, Houston.
© Dario Robleto. Photo: Paul Hester

Tonight, Tuesday November 18, there will be a film screening of Man, Art, Machines as part of the ongoing series of events at the Menil Collection surrounding artist Dario Robleto’s exhibit. Here is a write-up by Meghan Hendley Lopez about one of the previous events.

By Meghan Hendley Lopez

On September 23, questions and revelations of art along with spirituality happened at The Menil Collection during the program Conversation with the Artist: Ann Druyan & Dario Robleto. In conjunction with the exhibition Dario Robleto: The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed, on view through January 11, Ann Druyan spoke to an overflowing house in the main building of the Menil. Part of her resume includes being executive producer and writer for the Emmy-nominated series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, creative director of the Golden Record, a prolific writer and speaker, along with being a producer for the 1997 sci-fi movie ‘Contact’.

As a member of a seven-person team headed by her soon-to-be-husband, astronomer Carl Sagan, Druyan helped create a portrait of Earth from natural sounds, images, musical selections, spoken greetings, and even recordings of her own heartbeat and brainwaves that were placed aboard the unmanned space probes Voyager 1 and 2 and launched on a billion-year journey into space. Noted as the “greatest mix tape ever known to man”, this collection of recordings of Druyan’s heart and mind brought about the revelation of her love and thoughts. Beyond the strictly scientific, this talk helped highlight the union of study with pure humanity along with new love.

Both Robleto and Druyan spoke of the ‘Golden Record’ made in 1977 for NASA’s Voyager space probe and the use of her own EKGs and EEGs. While focusing on her fiancé, Carl Sagan, the monitors recorded her own heart rhythm that certainly beat to the visual and thought of her love. As a focus of the exhibition, Robleto spoke of his fascination of this recording as a young boy and his determination to link this wavelength of sound to other forms, as through this exhibition.

"Installation

Installation View The Pulse Armed with a Pen
Installation view of Dario Robleto: The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed at the Menil Collection, Houston.
Work by Dario Robleto © 2014 Dario Robleto. Photo: Paul Hester

 

“This was an opportunity to use the microphone as the ear’s camera for beings who would never see our world,” said Druyan, star of the Golden Record. “, and so I thought that it would be good to start with the most basic sounds, the most geological sounds…that really the only sounds on the earth for a couple of hundred million years and then include the evolution of life, the evolution of intelligence, of technology.”

Druyan and Sagan’s romance, one could say certainly written in the stars, was discussed during the talk revealing how much Druyan loved Sagan and how they championed themselves on the shared passion for the things beyond this world in the cosmos. This project converted electricity and human anatomy to sound but also revealed one of the greatest gifts of being human: love and love for another.

“It’s a beautiful, timeless story and as much as we can admire the romance behind it, the story does not have to end in our imaginations as a wonderous ‘what if’ scenario…”, stated Robleto. “…In my mind, what ended was an artistic challenge for us, for the present. Just as we hope some another consciousness will ponder the strange sounds and symbols inscribed in this modest disc of gold, the creative minds of today should be consider in speculating and debating this vessel and its contents as we would any ancient hyrogliphs of our ancient past. Ann’s inspired gesture opened a window to contemplation about the heart, mind, and sounds.”

This love and this recording is one of the main features in Dario Robleto’s exhibition, noting this scientific act as art. As an example of human love, this recording was to become immortal in a sense, allowing for anyone who came in contact with it in the future to hear a moment of universal affection. At the discussion, Robleto made it a point to argue that Carl Sagan’s vision of the Golden Record and Ann Robleto’s gesture are two of the greatest works of art that art history has never really attempted for, the mission for science firmly established but not the artistry. Between the beauty of the actual record and its material to what was chosen to be placed on the record, to the reflection of the thoughts of what it is to be human, there is much to be learned from an artistic point of view as pointed out by the artist.

In this discussion, Druyan spoke from questions and comments facilitated by Robleto in a discussion of the creation of the Golden Record along with the relationship between science, emotion, art, and the human desire for long-term preservation. Spirituality was also mentioned in the discussion, linking the outlook of the universe to a deeper plain:

“Science for me is my way of experiencing the spiritual…” Ann noted at the end of the talk. “…and without that uplifting story, what’s the point?…And from these tapes that tell us about our connections with each other, our interrelatedness and about our relatedness as Carl pointed out, so eloquently, to the stars themselves and the whole notion that we are made of star stuff. These are the best spiritual ideas after the love like we felt…I think it’s part of the craving to know other beings in the cosmos to know what it’s like to come of age of a completely separate evolution and pathway and set of experiences to wonder and question is there somewhere that we can meet and connect? That’s part of the wonder of it.”

Installation View Things Placed in the Sea and Warhol Sunset Installation view of Dario Robleto: The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed with Dario Robleto, Things Placed in the Sea, Become the Sea, 2013–14 (foreground), and Andy Warhol, Sunset, 1972 (background), at the Menil Collection, Houston. Work by Dario Robleto © 2014 Dario Robleto. Work by Andy Warhol © 2014 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Paul Hester

Installation View Things Placed in the Sea and Warhol Sunset
Installation view of Dario Robleto: The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed with Dario Robleto, Things Placed in the Sea, Become the Sea, 2013–14 (foreground), and Andy Warhol, Sunset, 1972 (background), at the Menil Collection, Houston.
Work by Dario Robleto © 2014 Dario Robleto. Work by Andy Warhol © 2014 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Paul Hester

 

  • Kevin Wortman

    I met Ann Druyan in 1989 when I was 15. It was a BBQ party thrown by someone she knew or was related to in Houston. I wish I had remembered this thin earlier in my life, but it just came to me one day recently. I wish she might remember it because I stand in awe of everything she and her husband have ever done.