Józef Robakowski (1939) is one of the most significant neo-avant-garde figures in Poland. He was born in a gentry family. In the 1960s he studied history of art and museology on Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, then he moved to Łódź, where he graduated from Direction of Photography and Television Production Department in The National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre. He found art groups Oko (1960), Zero-61 (1961-1969), and Krąg (1965-1967) in Toruń. From 1960 to 1966 he was also a member of the Students' Creative Film Club ‘Pętla’. But his essential group – Workshop of Film Form (1970-1977), affiliated with the film school – was established in Łódź. He has also been a lecturer in the film school, from 1970 till nowadays, with a break in the period of 1981-1995. In 1978, together with his wife Małgorzata Potocka, in their private flat he launched the Exchange Gallery. In the 1980s he participated in Going Dutch Culture activities.
Robakowski from the very beginning of his career endeavoured to set his creativeness in outputs of Polish pre-war and post-war avant-garde, in particular groups Jung Jidysz, a.r., Tytus Czyżewski, Stefan and Franciszka Themersons, Władysław Strzemiński, Katarzyna Kobro, Henryk Stażewski, Witkacy, but also soviet constructivism. He referred equally strong to contemporary international neo-avant-garde, especially Fluxus movement, and other post-conceptual artists who explored new media. His early experiments with the medium of photography with the Zero-61 group in the 1960s unfolded to the inquiry in materiality and structure of film image, which resulted in the conception of the ‘expanded cinema’. At the same time Robakowski studied relations between film and a cameraman’s body, observed traffic outside his window, and documented his own private life: on this basis, the ‘personal cinema’ conception has emerged and was developed in the 1980s. After the martial law Robakowski got interested in the alternative culture, punk bands, street happenings. His attitude during this period was called ‘positive nihilism’. In the 1990s and later Robakowski unwound his conception of ‘energetic art’. Apart from the changes in aesthetic ideas, he was known for an absurd, neo-dadaist sense of humour, a pressure on art and an artist’s autonomy, and astute observation of social phenomena, or even interventions close to the applied art practices. His attitude was shaped by his aversion towards conceptual avant-garde rather than resistance to the socialist authorities. Wiesław Borowski, the influential conceptual theoretician, in his famous essay from 1975 called Robakowski and his colleagues the ‘pseudo-avant-garde’. This pejorative nickname became popular as a synonym of post-conceptual neo-avant-garde movement, which preferred to call itself ‘progressive’ or ‘radical’ artists. Robakowski is still active as an artist, teacher, collector, and commentator of cultural events.
Łódź , Polska
- Poznań, Poland
- Stanczyk, Xawery
Robakowski, Józef , interview by Stanczyk, Xawery, August 28, 2016. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection