On VALIE EXPORT

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | April 20, 2017

We wrap up the Spring 2017 season this week with the work of Austrian performance and multi-media artist, VALIE EXPORT.

Born Waltraud Lehner, the artist rejected her family and ex-husband’s name in 1967, adopting the nom de guerre, VALIE EXPORT, from a popular brand of cigarettes. VALIE EXPORT’s work spans the realms of video, performance, cinema, installation, and interaction, expanding on a complex feminist critique of the social and political body, fusing the visceral and conceptual.

To accompany the screening of VALIE EXPORT’s work, we welcome some thoughts from School of the Art Institute of Chicago professor Mechtild Widrich. Widrich teaches art history, criticism, and theory and has written extensively on VALIE EXPORT in her book Performative Monuments: The Rematerialization of Public Art (Manchester University, Press, 2014.) which is excerpted below.

VALIE EXPORT, Visual Text: Finger Poem, 1973. Courtesy Sixpack Film.

It is 1968; political tensions run high, riots and social protest erupt in cities around the world. Women fight against discrimination and for equal pay. ‘There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say that there isn’t’, as Leonard Cohen put it in retrospect. Just then Austrian artist VALIE EXPORT steps on the Vienna art scene, a city whose Nazi past overshadowed any countercultural social ferment. The only woman among the founding members of the avant-garde Austrian Filmmakers Cooperative Film group, EXPORT takes a new surname from her favorite cigarette brand, capitalizes the whole, and fittingly stages actions with reference to the image of woman in advertising and Hollywood film.

Tap and Touch Cinema, 1968, is a “real chick flick”, she claims: standing in public with a wearable theatre stage framing her naked breasts, she invites passers-by to visit the cinema with their hands while an assistant times the transaction. Touch replaces the voyeuristic gaze, while those acting become objects of the gaze of those who watch.

A porous border between performance and photography, and between theatre and sex, is characteristic of the artist’s media-critical approach, for example in her photographic performance Action Pants: Genital Panic (1969) which was re-performed by Marina Abramovic at the Guggenheim Museum in 2005, but EXPORT is also the director of some of the most daring feminist films of the 1970s and ‘80s. Thinking about presence and mediation, body and object allowed EXPORT to expand her performances into media installations, photographic experiments with the environment, and even into memorials to commemorate the Holocaust.

VALIE EXPORT, Adjunct Dislocations (still), 1973. Courtesy of VALIE EXPORT.

“It is said that, in 1969, VALIE EXPORT went into a cinema in Munich, wearing jeans with a triangular cut out aimed to reveal the pubic area. Once inside the auditorium, she walked slowly through the rows, with her ‘cunt and [the audience’s] nose on the same level’.  The intention of this ‘action’, the word EXPORT herself favours, was to confront the voyeuristic male moviegoer with a ‘real’ female body, instead of the mediated one that could be consumed clandestinely—thus anticipating and inverting Laura Mulvey’s famous 1975 feminist manifesto ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ by several years. ‘People in the back of the cinema got up and fled the situation, because they were afraid I would come up to them as well’, EXPORT stated in a recent interview, thereby confirming that the titular ‘panic’ had in fact taken place and stressing the presence of the real woman as pivotal to the audience reaction.” – Excerpt from Performative Monuments

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