From My Window, Józef Robakowski

Józef Robakowski
From My Window
, 1978/1999
16mm transferred to video and video, sound, 19:00 min
Courtesy of Collection 2 of Municipal Gallery Arsenal, Bialystok, Poland

 

My name is Józef Robakowski. I live on the 9th floor of a big high-rise at 19 Mickiewicza Street. Our building has 20 floors – it is magnificent! And it is situated in the very center of Lódź. We proudly call this whole high-rise complex “the Manhattan of Łódź – says the Polish artist in the opening sequence to what is arguably his best-known video work to date.

 

Shot over the course of more than two decades, From My Window chronicles the rhythm of everyday happenings as seen by Robakowski from the kitchen window of his flat in a new housing project that was the tallest in the city throughout the Polish People’s Republic. The events captured are hardly spectacular: people going about their business, on their way to work or returning home, by car or on foot, people walking their dogs, carrying things, pushing prams, or riding bicycles. All this punctuated by the odd parade marching down the nearby avenue celebrating the Workers’ Day on May 1st. The seasons change and years go by to the artist’s untiring voice-over.

It is in Robakowski’s casual yet matter-of-fact – and deadpan-amusing at that – commentary that those minuscule figures, and otherwise opaque situations, come to life. They are the artist’s neighbors and acquaintances, we learn of their characteristics and routines. Or do we? There is no telling how much of what we hear is genuine. In fact, the seamless flow of the film in which twenty years had been condensed to some twenty minutes is precisely the result of the artist’s editing and narration. If it is a chronicle, it is an inadvertent one: there is no apparent regime to Robakowski’s treatment of time – rather than reported, major historical events are reflected in the changing setting and the characters’ behavior. At a certain point the artist also switches from 16mm camera to video – but retains the manner he employs it. On the one hand, this approach is akin to the literary genres in which the fabric of everyday reality is woven from familiar as well as impossible or illogical occurrences that altogether seem more rational than the grand narratives of history playing out in the distance. On the other hand, it is a personal and self-critical portrait resulting from an unrestrained registering of one’s reality that Robakowski advocated and referred to as “own cinema”. In a text published in 1981 he wrote: ‘Let us then film everything, and we will learn that we are inevitably filming ourselves. … It is truly interesting that one can engage in a dispute with oneself via the screen. … Also, consider this: your own memory often becomes the memory of those watching your films.’ 1

The video’s main protagonist, Robakowski points out, is the concrete lot he records with his camera. And while it is dynamic in its own sense, it does indeed change as the years go by, it also serves as a stage: for other characters to perform, for the artist to make his presence known, as well as for others to make sense of what is unfolding. From My Window has been variously described as an intimate diary, a nostalgic tale, a commentary on social interactions, a political critique and, even a durational performance. To be sure, it invites and accommodates such readings, and perhaps more.

The same year when Robakowski began filming the first shots of this work, the Dutch architect Rem Koolhas published his Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan which celebrated and critically examined the district’s unique urbanism with relation to culture and creativity. ‘This book’, wrote Koolhas in the introduction, ‘is an interpretation of that Manhattan which gives its seemingly discontinuous – even irreconcilable – episodes a degree of consistency and coherence, an interpretation that Intends to establish Manhattan as the product of an unformulated theory, Manhattanism, whose program – to exist in a world totally fabricated by man, i.e., to live inside fantasy-was so ambitious that to be realized, it could never be openly stated.’ 2

 

Krzysztof Kosciuczuk

1. Józef Robakowski, ‘Wybór pism – teksty własne 1970-88’, Powiekszenie, VIII, no 3(31) 1988.
2. Rem Koolhas, Delirious New York. A Retroactive Manifesto of Manhattan, Monacelli Press, 1994, p.10. First published 1978 by Oxford University Press.

 

Józef Robakowski (b. 1939, Poznan) is among the key Polish avant-garde artists working with video. Having studied history of art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Torun Robakowski went on to study at the Film, Television and Theatre School in Łódź (commonly known as Łódź Film School). Aside from experimental films, Robakowski has worked with installation, performance, photography, as has been active as art theorist as well as co- founded a number of art groups, among them Zero-61 and Film Form Workshop (Warsztat Formy Filmowej). His works have been widely presented internationally. He lives and works in Łódź.