Dario Robleto, The First Time, The Heart (First Pulse, 1854; First Flatline, 1870) (2019)
- Photolithography, hand-flamed and sooted paper, image lifted from soot with litho-tine, fused with shellac and denatured alcohol. Diptych, 11 1/2 x 14 1/4 inches each. Edition of 20. Printed and published by Island Press, St. Louis, MO. .
Dario Robleto’s The First Time, The Heart responds to the 19th-century invention for visually recording the human heartbeat, Karl von Vierordt’s sphygmograph, a technology that made its first marks in soot using a human hair as a stylus. Robleto’s diptych recalls that method and the data it produced to suggest the life cycle, from the first pulse to the final flat line. Given that the two hearts belonged to two different subjects, this is also the life cycle of the technology itself—to show the traces of hearts that beat over a century ago brings them back to life in a pale way, but the real necromancy may be technological, in Robleto’s revival of elements of such ephemeral, sooty processes.
Robleto’s images are an essay in what is not there: the lines are an inadequate cipher for their task of depicting life, and this diptych—by bookending the life cycle—similarly looks away from any life between. It presents the frailty of these traces and, in many ways, of portraiture too. In this respect, Robleto calls to mind Pliny the Elder’s account of drawing’s origins in the traced outline of a departing lover’s shadow: in both instances the images described have an indexical, documentary closeness to the body, and both are haunted by the absence of their subject. A candle created the shadow in Pliny’s tale, and here Robleto used a flame to soot each sheet of paper.