Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Art is Alchemy

Dario Robleto, At War With The Entropy of Nature / Ghosts Don't Always Want To Come Back, 2002, Cassette tape made from carved bone and bone dust from every bone in the body, trinitite, melted and dissolved audio tape of an original composition of military drum marches and soldiers' voices from battlefields of various wars made from EVP recordings (Electronic Voice Phenomena: voices and sounds of the dead or past, detected through magnetic audio tape), metal, screws, dust, Letraset, 5/8 x 3 3/4 x 2 1/2 inches, Collection Julie Kinzelman and Christopher Tribble

“If you don’t know the history, you’re just making a jumbled mess. So sampling actually offers a way out of the criticism of this generation because sampling insists that you know your history. That you actually engage with it. That’s why I’m so compelled to know my history.”

-- Dario Robleto

Over the weekend I went to the Frye Museum to check out an exhibit that the designer working on the show 7 Minutest to Midnight recommended to me.

All I can say is, I’m so glad he did…

Dario Robleto is the most exciting artist I’ve seen since I discovered Matthew Barney years ago at his exhibit in the Guggenheim. But where Barney works more with myth and biology, Robleto deals with transformation, memory, and war. They both use alternative substances for creation of their installations, but Robleto is bravely embracing the controversial memory of war in American society.

At first glance, that cassette tape is just a cassette tape with an interesting title of songs on it...but then you read the list of materials and a narrative starts to emerge. You realize the tape is made with dust from all the bones in the human body, trinitite (the glass made from the heat of the first atomic test, Trinity, in the desert sands of New Mexico, that the tape is made from audio of military marches, soldiers voices from the battlefield...and suddenly the frame upon which you view this tape is altered. There is a connection to history, to war, but ultimately tied to the present becuase of the package (a modern cassette tape). It hits you on an intellectual level, but also hits you in the gut and in the heart...Maybe you're repelled by the fact that it was made from human remains, sure, but you can't escape the fact that the artist is reminding you about the history and legacy of war...and how we view it if it were a mix tape.

It's like post-modernism with heart.

To learn more about Robleto, just google him, or check out this interview here.

I liked the exhibit at the Frye so much, titled Alloy of Love, that I bought his book, with photos of the peices, but also some essays and interviews. One comment he made is about how some people view his work as “destructive”. He usually uses old vinyl records which he melts down and restructures into something else (like making buttons out of Billie Holiday records). He takes old love letters and grinds them to a pulp and remakes them as “love pills” and puts them in a bottle. He took the unabomber's manifesto, cut it up and made his own "love manifesto" which he sent to random friends. He’s taken old letters from soldiers in the Civil War, or taken lead from bullets collected at Civil War battle sights and transformed them into wedding rings for a piece. He’s even made a magic wand out of trinitite.

He doesn't view this as destruction, but rather transformative. He uses material that first of all, ethically, is not in desperate need from archivals, but is still historical--things you might have in the attic that have meaning on a small level, and then gives them even greater universal meaning. It's like turning lead into really, he views his art and process as alchemy. His gestures are positive, not embracing the cynical, but filled with hope, turning the remains of violence into something beautiful.

And he uses art as if he were making a mix tape, or creating music, or “sampling”, like a DJ.

And I wonder, how can we play with these ideas in our show this fall? How can we transform the destructive forces of the atomic bomb and make something hopeful?

I realized that I've always been very much interested in art that transforms suffering into hope (its certainly there in Beckett, Shepard, Shakespeare, etc.). Perhaps all art does that, I don't know.

As Robleto says:

"Hope is everywhere in my belief and I hope that comes through because I’m not a pessimistic person. I want to stress the point that my work is ultimately about hope. It’s about acknowledging the horror of the past and the present but suggesting that we’re not powerless against it. We can be proactive about changing things, and that’s where the hope comes in. The fact that you would even think that you could change something is a hopeful act."

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