For Dario Robleto, no cultural relic is too sacred to be recycled: Human bones, fossilized mammoth ivory, even Billie Holiday records are melted, carved, or pulverized and recast into completely unrecognizable forms. His abuse of substances makes for an intriguing but uneven installation at the satellite Whitney (whose sponsor is no stranger to the art of repackaging).
The show’s centerpiece is a 10-part sculpture inspired by Carl Sagan’s “Golden Record,” a compilation of earthly sounds and music borne by the Voyager spacecraft as a message to extraterrestrial life. Robleto combines altered vinyl with minerals, crystals, and fossils to form minuscule, quirky artifacts. These are best apprehended with a list of materials in hand and an appreciation of concrete puns. Take A Dark Day for the Dinosaurs, described as “prehistoric cave bear digit, lighter made from dissolved 8-track recording of Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man,’ flame made from melted vinyl record of T. Rex’s ‘Life’s a Gas,’ wire, spray paint.” The level of fabrication in these works is remarkable, although molding a copy of James Brown’s Sex Machine into butterfly antennae seems like just showing off.
At times, Robleto’s choice of material carries greater historical weight. Two sculptures contain reworked “trinitite” (glass produced during the first nuclear explosion at the Trinity test site), a substance with apocalyptic, “ice-nine” resonance. Robleto also experiments, less effectively, with “Space Seeds”—tomato seeds launched from the ill-fated Challenger shuttle and later retrieved by the Columbia. The resulting seedlings, planted in faux-Styrofoam cups, appear in a maudlin suite of digital photographs. At their best, though, Robleto’s forays into social archaeology are public versions of the private microcosms of Joseph Cornell—offbeat time capsules marked for the present.