Dario Robleto: D'amelio Terras

Article excerpt

Dario Robleto's sculptures are reliquaries, totems whose power derives from the authenticity of the stuff of which they are made. He has, for example, cast a male rib from female-rib dust, and presented a pair of interlocking pelvises formed from melted-down rock-'n'-roll albums that belonged to his father and mother. His recent show "Fear and Tenderness in Men" was the artist's first solo exhibition in New York. Coming as a coda to an ongoing project begun in 2003, it dealt with soldiers' relics and survivors' mourning rituals. Installed against walls the color of dried blood, the seventeen small assemblages telegraphed an elegiac, faux-nineteenth-century mood. They had obviously been molded from found bits and pieces and looked like skillfully made but macabre craft projects. But the works did not testify overtly to their material sources; it took a perusal of the checklist--in effect a work in its own right--to connect the homespun sculptures to the dreamlike realness Robleto investigates.

Gathered from specialist collectors, the seventeen works center on American Civil War and First World War memorabilia. Robleto combines these with mineral, botanical, and occasionally artificial additives, which are then melted, ground, macerated, stitched, carved, and otherwise transmogrified. The gorgeously suggestive checklist comprises what Robleto calls his "liner notes." As in any conceptual practice, language here stands in for operations and values that the viewer cannot see. Robleto reports, in fact, that before he envisions an object or image, he settles on the words--not only catalogues of ingredients, but titles and backstories--that will frame it. He also consistently situates his work in the context of turntablists' sampling and alchemists' transformations. Robleto believes in the transmigration of elemental energies; what if matter really can soak up touch and intention, retaining it regardless of outward form? It's an appealing if fantastical proposition. The problem is that the reconstituted objects--in this show, at least--are ultimately less compelling than the mysterious, labor-intensive processes that reportedly went into making them. …