Thermograms - operations on reality

Art till it hurts

Live Gallery, Lodz progressive art movement 1969-1992

'ART' friend (a memoir)

Art is a power!

The Measure of Photography



'ART' friend (a memoir)

Jozef Robakowski

Paul Sharits approached me during the international meeting DOCUMENTA 6, kassel, 1977. Myself and my colleagues took part in this huge celebration
of art as the WFF (Workshop of Film Form) on the invitation of Birgit Hein.
It was an exceptional event, that time focussed on the so-called 'other media'. By accident we were staying in a luxurious hotel in a room reserved by the Polish Government for the official 'anti-master' - Tadeusz Kantor, who for some reason did not arrive. By contrast, Paul Sharits - a master of the American experimental cinema - was living in much more modest suburban hotel. Frequently, after late-night parties he did not feel like struggling back to his distant hotel and preferred to continue with the 'Polish vodka' nightcap in my room, later sleeping on the floor. One time, when as usually we woke up with a bit of a hangover, Paul impressed me sitting cross-legged on the floor and creating off-the-cuff, without any notes, a list of fifty or so important contacts complete with names, addresses and phone numbers. I was mighty impressed by this cool display performed flawlessly despite the headache.

Our second chance encounter happened during 'Film as Film' meeting
at the London's Hayward Gallery in 1979, where together with Paul Sharits
and David Curtis I was introduced to the London's Filmmakers Co-Op. It is important to note that on that day, during an official presentation of WFF films, I was able to introduce to Paul and David our Polish 'masters' of experiment - Francis and Stefan Themerson who were there at our invitation.

The third and last meeting happened at the first 'Construction in Process'
in Łódź in 1981. After many difficulties, Paul Sharits managed to arrive at the
Kaliska Station (Łódź main railway station) on crutches. It turned out, that as
a result of a serious accident in the United States, Paul was badly hurt and under serious physical and psychological stress. We took him home for the entireduration of the 'Construction'. It was an exceptional opportunity to stir up many artistic events. He was really impressed by my very own Bolex 16 mm motion camera. One day, while moved by Chopin's mazurkas blasting at the full volume in my apartment, Paul grabbed my Bolex and started filming on the balcony waving his hands wildly to the rhythm of the composition. Unfortunately, the film was never finished because the film stock vanished somewhere in the government- controlled processing laboratory during the martial law imposed in Poland in winter 1981. Nevertheless, we have preserved a vivid memory of this exceptional performance. We were really close then. One could even say that we loved each other through Chopin and art.

Paul Sharits could not accept the fact that his films did not make it to the 'Construction in Process'. As a result, I had promised him that as soon
as they would arrive to the American Embassy in Warsaw, I would organize
a special presentation in Łódź dedicated to his work. Sadly, meanwhile
the Polish Communist Government imposed martial law and the public presentation could not be organized. After many complicated manoeuvres, I had managed to bring his films from the American Embassy finally in 1982. Under the circumstances, I could organize only a private presentation in my apartment in Łódź (the Exchange Gallery); luckily for a sizeable group of the closest friends.

Łódź - a city and its inhabitants, the strike of women workers employed
in a huge nineteenth century textile factory, presentation of my film 'Notebook' in a factory workshop, finally, the atmosphere of the 'Construction in Process' itself - all made a huge impression on Paul Sharits. It was a truly exceptional moment in Polish history during which art was truly free. Upon his return to the States, Paul maintained a systematic correspondence with Małgorzata Potocka and myself. One day we received shocking news and an accompanying photograph of a half-naked Paul Sharits with a huge hole in his body around his kidney. Apparently, he was accidentaly shot while dining at a restaurant. His life was truly dangling by a thread. He managed to survive no doubt thanks to his great, in-born vitality, and a will to live. It was at that time, that he mailed me a detailed score of OUR film; a film that only today can be created with digital technology thanks to help from my friend Wiesław Michalak from Toronto's Ryerson University. Thus, after twenty years, we are introducing to the world public another work by this outstanding American filmmaker titled 'Attention: Light!' - with the score by Chopin meticulously selected by Paul Sharits himself; an unpredictable artist whom I truly loved.

J. Robakowski, Łódź 5.08.2004

Two more memories - during the martial law in Poland, together with a large
group of friends I have planned to organize a large international film meeting
'FORWARD' - it was to be organized entirely through the 'alternative', underground means. The printed invitations were smuggled through the border by a Canadian artist of Polish origin Mariella Nitoslawska. Each artist invited to the meeting supposed to select three more younger artists. The invitation had also the entire list of the Polish organizers and participants. Paul Sharits, who was not familiar with the methods of the communist governments, wrote and mailed back to Poland his suggestions together with complete addresses on the original invitation illegally printed and smuggled abroad. Of course, the communist secret police confiscated the letter. In this way, completely unaware of his mistake he had revealed our plans and list of participating artists to the authorities. As a result, for years to come none of the artists mentioned in the invitation received a permission to leave the country to take part in any international events - the 'FORWARD' meeting itself died a natural death because the Polish authorities, in their opinion, could not permit in 1985 an international festival of 'subversive' artists.

Finally a second interesting fact; this time of a very personal nature.
Between 1983 and 1989 the communist authorities denied me a passport.
Many invitations to international reviews, festivals, and exhibitions went by without my participation. Almost a decade of the artistic non-existence - this is truly a hole in my artistic biography. The consequences for me were devastating. A good example is an important and prestigious film review organized in New York in 1983 by Regina Cornwell - titled The Other Side: European Avant-Garde Cinema 1960-1980'. Because of the 'political blockade' of my work by the official Polish authorities, my work was not shown at this festival. Luckily for me, Paul Sharits officially took an exception and voiced his disapproval - in his opinion it was unthinkable to present Polish independent experimental cinema without the participation of Józef Robakowski. With all my heart, I would like to thank Paul for his gesture.