Józef Robakowski. Danger! High Voltage!

State Art Gallery, Sopot
10.05 – 24.06.2018

partner: Piekary Gallery

curator: Cezary Pieczynski

Co-financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage from the Culture Promotion Fund

The exhibition entitled Józef Robakowski. Danger! High Voltage! features works from the collection of the artist as well as private collections, spanning Robakowski’s entire creative output in the various techniques he employed, from the early period—with pieces such as 4 Fields of Focus or Inflated Head – to his final works.

During his studies in Toruń Józef Robakowski was interested chiefly in photography, photocollages and photoobjects (from 1960 onwards; the latter departed from the default, flat surface of the photographic material and gained a three-dimensional aspect, becoming spatialized). The 1970s saw Robakowski embark on Energetic Angles, a series widely present at the exhibition, as it amalgamated various interests of the artist and utilized a range of media, from paper, photography, acrylics, installations, to video and film as well as theoretical concepts. These projects “[…] embodied the fascination with the existence of ANGLES as a kind of intuitive geometry” (Józef Robakowski, 1979-1997).

Numerous canonical films in Robakowski’s oeuvre were made as part of the Workshop of Film Form, such as the 1973 video-performance I’m Going that audiences will be able to see at the Sopot exhibition, in which the artist records himself climbing the stairs while the film itself (sounds, movements of the camera, shots) are almost intrinsically coupled with the body of the artist.

A fair proportion of works created by Robakowski are autobiographical ones, for instance the video entitled About Fingers, made in 1982, where each finger is endowed with its own story.

In 1989, Robakowski created My Video-Masochisms, a parody-to-camera echoing performative projects of the then artists in which the latter would resort to self-mutilation. Using various devices (e.g. portable water heater) and taking care to provide the accompaniment of realistic sound effects, the artist acted out tortures performed on his face. The concept found its continuation in the performance I Am Electric (1996), which took place in a television studio (with a live broadcast and audience participation). Robakowski would ask individual persons to “crank up” the voltage on a specially designed device, the power from which ran through his body via cables.

Józef Robakowski (born February 20th, 1939) is an artist whose creative potential is released in a range of media, such as photography, video, film and expanded cinema, installation, performance, as well as traditional techniques, e.g. on paper. Robakowski studied art history at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, which proved to have a substantial influence on his work, as he has often analyzed and studied the medium itself. While in Toruń, Robakowski was an active contributor to many art groups, such as Oko (1960), Zero-61 (1961-1969), Krąg (1965-1967), or Students’ Creative Film Club “Pętla” (1960-1966). Zero-61 is exceptionally noteworthy, as its members subscribed to isolation from political contexts and current aesthetic tendencies, which fostered intense experimentation with a medium of their choice.

Robakowski also attended the programme at the Faculty of Cinematography, Łódź Film School, where he is now a professor. From the very outset, he was an active participant of the artistic life there, co-organizing the Workshop of Film Form (1970-1977) and the Creative Television Group STACJA “Ł” (1991-1992). The former deserves particular attention, both because its avant-garde inventiveness had a singularly invigorating influence on the Polish art scene at the time, and due to the fact that its unique profile enabled Robakowski’s own creative path to crystallize. One of the most important premises adopted by the Workshop, which in this respect was akin to the Zero-61 group, was testing the boundaries of the medium and seeking new means of artistic expression that transgressed on the rules imposed by the School and went beyond the concepts in vogue. Since 1978, Robakowski has been running the Exchange Gallery, a private gallery of contemporary art, which aims to foster “exchange of artistic thought, stir thing up, and incite creative initiative. Also, Robakowski contributed as editor to such publications as Nieme kino and Pst!.