The Future Heart: Dario Robleto, Doris Taylor, and Adrian Matejka in conversation [Video]

Who can claim knowledge of the human heart? Can poetry, art, and medicine each contribute to our understanding of this historically and biologically complex organ? In conjunction with the exhibition The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto the artist Dario Robleto invited Doris Taylor, director of regenerative medicine research at The Texas Heart Institute Center for Cardiovascular Care, and Adrian Matejka, poet and editor of Poetry magazine to discuss their own heart-centered work and speculate on the meaning and possibilities the heart holds. Inspired by astonishing advances in biomedical engineering, this cross-disciplinary conversation contemplated the possibility of a “future heart” distinct from anything we’ve known before and considered why the literal, poetic, and philosophical heartbeat continues to inspire.

Watch the Conversation

“It is the complex way love and loss intertwine and inform each other that define this work. The work these guests do comes from somewhere deep, fully lived, questioned, and yes, open-hearted, with all the vulnerability that that implies. And whether it is heart disease or heartbreak, they don’t shy away from observing the damage that we can inflict on each other’s hearts. But they also don’t shy away from the radical notion that we have the power to mend each other’s hearts when called to do so. So we are each poet, artist, and scientist in our respective ways, searching for the fundamentals of the human heart.

We might use different tools such as images and objects, language and biology to explore its depths, and what we each might deem as a meaningful investigation of the heart, you know, that might produce a different outcome, but we each have something invested in the core question of this show. What do we owe to the memory of one another’s hearts?

– Dario Robleto

About the Speakers

Dario Robleto was born in San Antonio, Texas in 1972 and received his BFA from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 1997. He lives and works in Houston, TX.

The artist has had numerous solo exhibitions since 1997, most recently at the Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, KS (2021); the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (2019); the McNay Museum, San Antonio, TX (2018); Menil Collection, Houston, TX (2014); the Baltimore Museum of Art (2014); the New Orleans Museum of Art (2012); and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver (2011). His work has been profiled in numerous publications and media including Radiolab, Krista Tippet’s On Being, and the New York Times. In 2008 a 10-year survey exhibition, Alloy of Love, was organized by the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York. Accompanied by a major monograph, Alloy of Love traveled to the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, Washington.

Dr. Doris Taylor has imagined changing the world for people with disease since she lost her father to cancer when she was 6 – in her words, so that “no one else ever had to feel that loss.” Then her family moved to Mississippi, and her mom pointed out how ordinary people were doing extraordinary things to change the world for the better. Watching her single mom stand up for justice for everyone, compounded by bullying of her twin brother even by teachers because he had cerebral palsy, primed her to spend her life speaking up and speaking out to make a difference in the world.

Today Taylor is working to cure the number one killer of humans – heart disease. Her current goal is to bioengineer personalized replacement human hearts on demand. And to find a solution for the predominant type of heart failure that preferentially has affected women – with no treatment available.  She is equally committed to making those therapies available fairly, equitably, and as soon as they are shown to be safe and effective.

Taylor is recognized as a pioneer and a global thought leader in regenerative medicine. She is credited with the first functional scientific repair of injured heart with stem cells in 1998. She and her group further transformed the field of organ transplantation science in 2008 by developing a unique cell removal (decellularization) method that makes un-transplantable organs into usable scaffold frameworks for building new organs with stem cells. This was so revolutionary it was recognized as one of the “Top 10 Research Advances” by the American Heart Association and Taylor was nominated as one of “100 most influential people in the world” by Time magazine.  Next, she turned to disease prevention and has begun to develop “cellular signatures” of heart disease and aging that appear to differ by sex, race, and ethnicity. She has published close to 200 scientific papers, edited multiple books, trained dozens of fellows and more students, and received over 23 patents.

Adrian Matejka was born in Germany as part of a military family. He grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana and is a graduate of Indiana University Bloomington and the MFA program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

He is the author of The Devil’s Garden (Alice James Books, 2003) which won the New York / New England Award and Mixology (Penguin, 2009), a winner of the 2008 National Poetry Series. His third collection, The Big Smoke (Penguin, 2013), was awarded the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. The Big Smoke was also a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the National Book Award, and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. His next collection, Map to the Stars, was published by Penguin in 2017. 

His mixed media collaboration with Nicholas Galanin and Kevin Neireiter inspired by Funkadelic, Standing on the Verge & Maggot Brain (Third Man Books), was published in 2021. His most recent collection of poems, Somebody Else Sold the World (Penguin, 2021), was a finalist for the UNT 2022 Rilke Prize and the 2022 Indiana Authors Award. His first graphic novel Last On His Feet:Jack Johnson and the Battle of the Century was published in February 2023 by Liveright. 

Among Matejka’s other honors are the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, the Julia Peterkin Award, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and a Simon Fellowship from United States Artists. He served as Poet Laureate of the state of Indiana in 2018-19. He currently lives in Chicago and is Editor of Poetry magazine.

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