Blog / Dario Robleto: In defiance of war

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By Wendy

Artist Dario Robleto thought about the photo for a long time.
In it, a World War I soldier lies in a muddy trench, his back to the dirt wall. He gazes directly into the camera, exhausted. Look a little closer, and you see his arm around a live tomato plant growing in the trench mud. Behind him, in the dirt, lie the bodies of unburied soldiers.
The soldier knows that he is nurturing a tomato plant on top of fallen men. He is protecting a bit of green life on a battlefield.
“It’s moments like that I’m drawn to as an artist, as a human,” Dario said, during a free talk at The Mint Museum in Charlotte on Tuesday.

Dario’s talk was mostly about his sculpture  “Defiant Gardens” (above), a work that grew out of rich idea: Soldiers, prisoners of war and civilians grow plants and gardens during wartime–often on battlefields.

“That concept has never, ever gone away,” he said. “Every war, it reappears.”

The seven-foot-tall sculpture is the last in Dario’s wreath series. The work brings together elements of technique, materials and storytelling he has developed over time. “I really wanted the piece to bring together 10 years of this investigation,” Dario said. “What can art do in a time of war?”

The list of materials in the sculpture is mysterious and intense: “Cut paper, homemade paper (pulp made from soldiers’ letters sent home and wife/ sweetheart letters sent to soldiers from various wars, cotton), thread and fabric from soldiers’ uniforms of various wars, carrier pigeon skeletons, WWII-era pigeon message capsules, dried flowers from various battlefields, hair flowers braided by war widows, mourning dress fabric, excavated shrapnel and bullet lead from various battlefields, various seeds, various seashells, cartes de visite, gold leaf, silk, ribbon, wood, glass, foam core, glue.”

“Defiant Gardens” was part of his solo show, “Dario Robleto: An Instinct Toward Life,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver last spring and was featured in Art in America. “Defiant Gardens” is also the most recent gift to The Mint Museum’s permanent collection, made possible through the generosity of the Mint Museum Auxiliary.  (The Mint Museum was home to Dario’s  first solo museum exhibition in 1999.) Several works by Dario, including a triptych in “The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl,” on view at Miami Art Museum, are part of the Nasher Museum’s permanent collection.

I see “Defiant Gardens” as Dario’s answer to war. Soldiers do as they are told. Tell them to plant seeds on the front lines and the battles might stop.

The call to action in this sculpture is brilliant: Bring together all mothers. The mothers who raise soldiers, generals and politicians, who in turn wage war, have more power than they know. Rather than reacting to war (offering first aid, mourning death), mothers band together and gather seeds that will transform and heal the barbed wire battlefields.

We talk about a soldier’s bravery. We talk about tragedy, defeat, destruction, wounds. What about a soldier’s art? His poet’s heart? His capacity to love? This work honors a warrior’s impulse to create and protect life in the midst of destruction.

Some song titles from “Defiant Gardens”:

When the Waiting Has Meaning

Matter and Love are Inseparable

With Nothing to Risk Love Can’t Exist

The Heart’s Knowledge Will Decay

Lunge for Life As If It Were Air

Rise From Your Dream of Melancholy

Dissolve Your Ties to Time

IMAGE: (TOP) Dario Robleto, Defiant Gardens, 2009-2010. Cut paper, homemade paper (pulp made from soldiers’ letters sent home and wife/ sweetheart letters sent to soldiers from various wars, cotton), thread and fabric from soldiers’ uniforms of various wars, carrier pigeon skeletons, WWII-era pigeon message capsules, dried flowers from various battlefields, hair flowers braided by war widows, mourning dress fabric, excavated shrapnel and bullet lead from various battlefields, various seeds, various seashells, cartes de visite, gold leaf, silk, ribbon, wood, glass, foam core, glue. 79 1/2 x 61 x 4 1/2 inches. Collection of the Mint Museum.  Museum Purchase: Funds Provided by the Mint Museum Auxiliary.  Photography by Robert Wedemeyer. (ABOVE) Detail.

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