Sunday, March 26, 2023

A space-age love story inspires science-meets-art exhibition


Since the 1970s, a pair of golden records attempting to convey life on Earth to potential extraterrestrials have been hurtling through space on Voyager spacecraft. Among other things, those records contain evidence of a woman in love: electrical readings of the heartbeat and brain waves of Ann Druyan, the project’s creative director, recorded while she thought about her future husband, astronomer Carl Sagan.

“The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto,” a new art exhibition at Northwestern University, was inspired by — and is dedicated to — Druyan.

Dario Robleto, artist-at-large at the university’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science since 2018, developed the exhibition in a quest to explore the intersections between science and humanity. Included are multisensory artworks that ask whether human empathy extends beyond the boundaries of both time and space.

Druyan and Sagan became engaged just days before the recording was made in 1977. For Robleto, the decision to include it on a record intended to represent all of humanity beyond our solar system was a radical one. “I consider it the greatest work of subversive, avant-garde art not yet given its due,” he said in a news release.

The pair would go on to create the television series “Cosmos.” Elsewhere, Druyan has talked about how a phone call about the record’s contents turned into an unexpected, passionate profession of love — and an engagement despite never having dated or even shared a romantic moment alone. The pair married in 1981.

The exhibition is full of heartbeats and scientific exploration in the form of sound, video, sculpture and more. Among the artworks are custom-made records that memorialize the reconstructed heartbeats of people whose pulses were recorded during the 19th century using early scientific instrumentation. Sound historian Patrick Feaster collaborated on audio in the installation.

Druyan will participate in an online conversation with Robleto and art historian Jennifer Roberts on March 8 as part of an ongoing series of events related to the exhibition.

“The Heart’s Knowledge” is on view until July 9 at the Block Museum of Art on Northwestern’s campus in Evanston, Ill. Can’t make it to the museum? Visit to learn more about the exhibition and Robleto’s art.

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