The season 1 finale of Strange Customs brings Sasha Sagan to an extraordinary Chicago exhibition for a conversation with artist Dario Robleto. Situated at the intersection of art and science, the show also has its inspiration and roots in Sasha’s own family.

We’ll also hear from Harvard art historian Dr. Jennifer Roberts about the ways art and science share a mission to extend our vision beyond the horizon.


DARIO ROBLETO: In the late 70s, NASA launched Voyagers 1 and 2, the first probes to explore the outer planets. They had the foresight to put a message on board, just in case anything found it. And it’s 1977. So it’s the long-playing LP record. It’s literally made of gold. And on board on in the grooves is an attempt to summarize the complexity and diversity of our planet, both in its animal life and human life and our technology. There are images and sounds of the natural world, there’s music, there’s their languages, and is potentially the final document of our planet. It’s the most ambitious archival project humans have ever attempted.

My encounter with it when I was a young boy really transformed me—so much so that, literally four decades later, not only am I still thinking about it, I’m making art shows in response to it. My goal with the show was to offer a gift back through the language of art and tools of art.

DARIO: The first time a human was able to image the beating of their heart and their pulse outside of their body, in the language of a waveform, it should be acknowledged as a milestone in science. But I also argue it’s a milestone in poetry. Art is good at moments like this, because art allows me to tell that story in a way that science would not allow. To do it justice, I think you have to bring other lenses to the table, and art is one of them. 

ART HISTORIAN DR. JENNIFER ROBERTS: I think we make art because we’re creatures that wake up in the cosmos with consciousness. But we’re trapped in these small bags of flesh that we call our bodies, and we’re trapped in the dark with this brain stuck inside a skull. We can’t perceive anything beyond just a narrow band of electromagnetic radiation, we can’t see beyond the horizon, we can’t see even like one nanosecond, into the future, or into the past, we can’t see into each other, we can’t see into each other’s minds and into each other’s bodies. So we’re just surrounded by this sense that there’s something big bigger out there that we can’t reach. And we hate this. We have to find a way beyond those boundaries. And there are lots of ways that human culture does that. Science is one. But artists, I think, in particular, are people who have an especially difficult time, struggling with the fact that there’s something else out there beyond the material world that we can immediately access with our senses. And so you know, human culture tries to make sense of this, we try to make sense of the universe by creating culture and language and traditions and our brains try to make models of the world and then predict the world around us. But those traditions tend to ossify, they tend to become constraints in themselves, they become habitual. Art is a way of making sure that we’re always sort of pushing beyond the constraints, both that we have set physically set and those constraints that we set for ourselves.

Listen to the full episode