Dario Robleto: The Boundary of Life Is Quietly Crossed
Short profile on the exhibition The Boundary of Life Is Quietly Crossed. The exhibit, held at The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, revolved around the artists most recent area of enquiry: the largely unexplored history of the human heartbeat as sound. The exhibition draws on his extensive research into the earliest attempts to record the heartbeat as sound and image, the heartbeat and brainwave recordings on a probe currently headed toward the edge of the Solar System, and recent developments in the evolution of the artificial heart.
In addition, the show and museum served as laboratory to a collaboration between Robleto and Dr. Jose "Pepe" Contreras-Vidal, Director of the Laboratory for Non-Invasive Brain Machine Interfaces at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Houston. In the study, the brain response to viewing Robleto's art was studied with mobile electroencephalography (EEG) to examine the neural basis of aesthetic experiences. In contrast to most studies of perceptual phenomena, participants were moving and thinking freely as they viewed the exhibit. The brain activity of over 400 subjects was recorded using dry-electrode and one reference gel-based EEG systems over a period of 3 months. This work provides evidence that EEG, deployed on freely behaving subjects, can detect selective signal flow in neural networks, identify significant differences between subject groups, and report with greater-than-chance accuracy the complexity of a subject's visual percept of aesthetically pleasing art. In Robleto and Contreras-Vidal's "museum as laboratory" approach, acquisition of neural activity “in action and context,” could lead to understanding of how the brain integrates sensory input and its ongoing internal state to produce the phenomenon which we term aesthetic experience.