Fine Arts

Symposium presenter explores humanity, space

UH Libraries collaborated with Cynthia Mitchell Woods Center for the Arts as part of “The Art of Death and Dying” symposium and hosted conceptual artist Dario Robleto who presented “The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed” guest lecture at Dudley Recital Hall on Thursday.

The symposium ran from Oct. 24 to 27 and partnered with the Blaffer Art Museum, Honors College, School of Art and the Department of Hispanic Studies.

Before Robleto spoke, a projector screen displayed a timer, against a starry background, furiously counting up from 18,376,917,000 kilometers. The numbers represented — in real time — the distance from Earth the Voyager spacecraft traveled.

Robleto’s discussion dealt with the significance of the Voyager’s missions through a captivating narrative describing his research of the Golden Record, a phonograph sent with both Voyager spacecrafts.

The mission has been widely discussed and analyzed since the spacecraft left the Earth in 1977, but Robleto contended that there was more beneath the surface.

“It was crucial to me to add something new, and I think I’ve found it,” Robleto said.

The records contain images and sounds designed to represent humanity in the event that an alien civilization discovers them.

“The odds of Voyager succeeding are astronomical, and everybody knew that,” Robleto said. “My argument is that it did bleed over into pure artistry. It did become a poetic endeavor, because those kinds of odds would tell a scientist not to go forward, but they did it anyway.”

According to Robleto, the two Voyager spacecrafts are monumentally important, an epic juxtaposition of art and science speaking deeply to what it means to be human.

From Robleto’s perspective, the Golden Records are an ark of sorts. As they are hurtling into interstellar space — and are already the furthest flung manmade object in the universe — they will likely outlast humanity and stand as an everlasting record of man’s achievements.

Robleto’s talk delved into the team who compiled the Golden Record — which he refers to as the greatest mixtape ever made — and their motivations in putting together the sights and sounds that would represent man to a vast universe.

Robleto’s talk digressed into the love story between American astrophysicist Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, the creative director for the Golden Record project, who would become Sagan’s wife.

Druyan contributed a 12-minute evolutionary audio essay, “The Sounds of Earth,” that included bird chirping, surfing, whale calls and other nature sounds meant to simulate the Earth experience. But her contribution is deeper; she also contributed her thoughts and emotions.

Robleto described how Druyan compiled a mental itinerary before hooking herself to an electroencephalography machine that recorded electrical activity along her scalp.

She reflected on human history — the soaring highs and heartbreaking lows — and allowed the machine to translate her thoughts into sound and transcribe them onto a disc.

Druyan allowed herself a few moments of quiet reflection on her experience of falling in love with Sagan.

The team theorized a technologically advanced society might be able to decode the sounds of the EEG machine and read Druyan’s thoughts.

Robleto’s narrative, like Druyan’s final moments in the EEG machine, is a love story.

The Golden Record can conceivably be the most eternal and permanent artifact of humanity and contain the most profound elements of the human situation.

“At some point it is a test of will because success is not going to be defined by the stated end goal. The success is in the trying,” Robleto said.

There is, Robleto said, great hope in sending such a message into the universe.

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