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Austrian Photographer, Filmmaker, and Performance Artist

Born: May 17, 1940 - Linz, Austria
"Art is a synthesis, a connection of perception, imagination, and idioms into a kind of knowledge always to be seen in its social, scientific, and technological relation. Knowledge: seizing of an object by a subject in a world of variable condition."
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"In our head we don't have a photograph, but the image of an image. We can say we don't know if this image exists, but we agree that the object exist: it's an agreement between all of us on this planet."
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"The woman as a spectacle, the woman as a naked body, as a merchandising image in film, represents the new economy of the body, the logic of the capital within culture"
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"Although some of my performances look very painful, they are not. When I think about how I live, how we all must live in our society, it is painful."
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"The female body has always been a construction."
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"Performance can be used to dilate time or to repeat time. And video, in turn, has its own time."
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"film as a perfect theatre of illusion"
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"At present I am mainly treating postures from a feminist point of view and dealing with materials from the female environment in order to thaw the imposed norms of the female bodily gestures, body language, and the associated function of the female body in our culture"
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"no matter what I did, I didn't exist"
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"How might we encounter an image if we explore the gaps between media? Since the actual image exists in the gaps."
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VALIE EXPORT's work is expressly political, questioning the ways in which society functions, and particularly how women are perceived and treated. She is recognized as one of the most important early feminist artists, who reconsiders the ways in which the body is presented and challenges its representation as passive in conventional film and media, offering complex and challenging depictions of women's experience. Developing her practice during the 1960s in an Austria that was still coming to terms with its role in the Second World War, and influenced by Viennese Actionism, her early work consisted of performances in which she challenged public audiences with sexualized actions that asked them to examine women's experience, with a focus on the ways in which their bodies were subject to the male gaze in cinema. She explored these ideas in a range of mediums, taking an approach that encompassed different styles and techniques in her practice and writing texts that outlined the importance of feminism in art and film. Over her long career she has continued to make work about gender and society and to teach on avant-garde practice and its relationship to political work.


  • EXPORT sees the body as an artistic material - she is interested in undermining the conventions of representing women's bodies in various ways, including offering her body to strangers to touch, exposing her genitals to her audiences, pointing out the ways in which femininity is constructed, and portraying the ways in which relationships ask women to adopt certain roles. She works with performance and film in order to consider the realities of women's bodies, rather than their fantasy depictions.
  • The name VALIE EXPORT is an important part of her practice, adopted by the artist in 1967 it represents her rejection of patriarchal structures. Her new name was created as both a new, self-fashioned identity and an artistic concept, with VALIE an alternative spelling of her nickname (Walie) and EXPORT inspired by the branding on the pack for Smart Export cigarettes. It was the term 'Export' that had most significance for the artist; she saw the gesture as exporting her identity in order to create something entirely new.
  • EXPORT is known for her development of a version of 'expanded cinema', a way of thinking about film that explores the possibilities of the medium beyond the projection of a film strip on a screen. Encompassing performance, photography, and interactive installations, as well as avant-garde cinematic techniques, EXPORT wants to make film a more interactive, intersubjective experience, rejecting the passive experience of the cinema and instead asking the audience to be actively involved in the work.

Biography of VALIE EXPORT


From an early age, VALIE EXPORT was attuned to the social injustices around her and particularly to gender inequality. She recalls noticing that "something was really not right, that boys were allowed to do so much more than girls." Raised amongst women, she was born Waltraud Lehner in 1940 in Linz, Austria and lived with her mother, a teacher, and her three sisters (her father had died in combat in Africa fighting in the Second World War for the Nazis when she was an infant). As a young child she was raised religious and studied in a convent school until she turned 14. Entering adulthood in a resurgent Europe that was still in the process of restructuring itself in the aftermath of war and nationalism, but was also marked by a youth movement in which people were beginning to explore new ways of thinking about society, EXPORT became interested in issues of justice particularly as they related to gender and turned to art as a means to express these.

Progression of Art


Tapp und Tastkino (Tap and Touch Cinema)

Walking in the street during a film festival in Vienna, EXPORT wore a styrofoam box extending roughly six inches from her body, a hole cut out of the front with a curtain covering it, resembling the architecture of a movie theater. Moving through the crowd, EXPORT invited passersby to put their hands under the curtain and touch her naked breasts, denying them the more conventional visual experience of the erotically charged gaze at the sexualised female form, and instead offering the experience of touch in order to critique the ways in which women's bodies were shown in cinema.

Seeking to complicate the structures of film and its reception in a work of expanded cinema (briefly defined as the exploration of the possibilities of the medium beyond the projection of a film strip on a screen), EXPORT claimed it as "the first real women's film". She states: "As always, the screening takes place in the dark. Only the movie theatre has become a bit smaller. There's only room inside for two hands. In order to see the film, meaning in this case to sense and feel it, the viewer (user) must guide his or her two hands into the movie theatre by way of the entrance. With that, the curtain, which up till now was raised only for the eyes, is finally raised for both hands too. The tactile reception stands against the deception of voyeurism [...] Tapp und Tastkino is an example for the activation of the audience through new interpretation."

Tapp und Tastkino then, offers a challenge to the patriarchal structures of film and, in art historian Roswitha Mueller's terms, represents "a woman's first step from object to subject." EXPORT's examination of the ways in which the body - especially women's bodies - are rendered passive in film preempts later critiques such as Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (1975) which considers how women on screen are objectified and presented so as to invite a sexualized male gaze. Seeking to complicate the existing understanding of the body in cinema, as well as the presumed hetrosexuality of the gaze, Tapp und Tastkino offers a physical engagement between the viewer/user and the artwork, moving beyond conventional modes of viewing and acting as an early example of EXPORT's feminist challenge to cinema.

Performance; Video, 1.08 minutes - Museum of Modern Art, New York City


Aktionhose: Genitalpanik (Action Pants: Genital Panic)

Aktionhose: Genitalpanik is possibly VALIE EXPORT's most notorious work. This silkscreened poster shows the artist sitting in her 1968 Aktionhose (Action pants) - a pair of Mustang jeans that had their crotch cut away so that the artist's genitals would be visible when wearing them - with legs open and hair messed up to frame her face, she holds a machine gun and stares out at the viewer. Stamped with the words VALIE EXPORT in what looks like an official endorsement of the image, the poster registers a distinctly female aggression that unashamedly pictures women's sexuality as part of a revolutionary posture.

The image relates to two performances - Gentialpanik 1 and Genitalpanik 2 which took place on 22nd April 1969 in the Augusta Lichtspiele, an independent cinema in Munich. Wearing her Aktionhose, EXPORT walked through the rows of a movie theater turning to face those seated so that her exposed genitals were at the viewer's eye level in order to create "indirect sexual contact with the audience". Demonstrating her continued and developing interest in the ways in which film invites voyeurism (also seen in Tapp und Tastkino), Genitalpanik 1 and 2 challenged the fear and repression of the female body through this combative gesture. Interrupting the voyeuristic pleasure of looking at the female body with its actual reality, EXPORT intervened into the depiction of passive sexualized women with an active and confrontational female body. This was in the service of reimagining sex in both representation and practice; EXPORT explains that "as long as the citizen remains satisfied with a reproduced copy of sexual freedom, the state will be spared a sexual revolution".

In Aktionhose: Gentialpanik, this gesture is both recorded and amplified. The addition of the gun, along with the artist's antagonistic pose and confrontational stare into the camera, registers the artist's aggression against the conventional expectations of the presentation of women and their bodies. That artist's insistent stare seems to issue a challenge to the viewer that demands recognition of not only her own biological reality but also her subjecthood, refusing to conceal her sexuality - literally and figuratively - and at the same time rejecting the passive role that sexualized women are expected to adopt.

Screenprint - Museum of Modern Art, New York City



SMART EXPORT is a photograph in which the artist replaces the branding on a pack of cigarettes with her own image and logo. The pack of Smart Export cigarettes, an Austrian brand associated with working class men, is altered by the artist: the brand "Smart", written in curling cursive, is replaced with "VALIE" written in capital letters; a map of Europe is overlaid with a picture of EXPORT's face. The photograph shows EXPORT holding the packet at arm's length, presenting it to the camera defiantly. She stands in the background of the image with a cigarette held in her mouth, one hand on her hip and staring back at the viewer.

This image is related to the artist's name change. Waltraud Höllinger was now VALIE EXPORT, having changed her name as a symbol of her refusal of patriarchal structures, rejecting both her father's and her ex-husband's surnames and instead creating something new. In this photograph, she announces her chosen identity to the current art scene. Through the engagement with everyday objects, SMART EXPORT connects this to the artist's interest in mass media and advertisement. Unlike the apparently affirmative treatment of mass cultural by Pop artists like Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein, she adopts its language in order to propose something aggressive and challenging, adulterating its appearance in order to transform herself into a brand and a product. However, this is not done as part of an uncritical embrace of capitalism but instead is a challenge, visible in the artist's self-presentation in this image where her pose and facial expression are rebellious and insolent, and her dress and defiant stance which evoke the youth protest movements of the 1960s.

Gelatin silver print - Museum of Modern Art, New York City


Cycle of Civilization. The Mythology of the Civilizing Processes

Body Sign Action shows EXPORT's naked body from the waist down, focusing on her upper thigh in order to allow the viewer a clear picture of a tattoo. Traced in black lines, it pictures parts of a garter belt, particularly the clip and a line of the top of a sheer stocking, offering a suggestion of stockings and suspenders permanently worn. In tattooing this on to her skin, EXPORT examines the construction of female sexuality as heavily coded and repressed. Positioned in the same place that a real garter belt would be, EXPORT makes permanent a costume that symbolizes sex and sensuality. By marking her skin in this way, Body Sign Action depicts the link between femininity, sensuality, sexuality and ornamentation.

In foregrounding the tattoo, she also connects the artwork to the body. According to the artist, this work also emphasizes the life-span of art - being inscribed on the body, the lifespan of the work will be defined by the lifespan of the artist. Furthermore, the use of tattooing also draws on the connections between tattoos, criminality and degeneracy as theorized by the Austrian architect and theorist Adolf Loos in his text Ornament and Crime (1910).

Gelatin Silver Print - Museum of Modern Art, New York City


Encirclement from the series Körperkonfigurationen (Body Configurations)

In this photograph a woman traces the Viennese urban landscape with her body, arching her back so as to mirror the curve of the curb. Making visible the shapes of the streetscape and the body's relationship to them, the photograph is overlaid with a thick red line that follows the curve highlighted by the pose. It is one of a series of body configurations that EXPORT undertook in the mid-1970s in the Körperkonfigurationen (Body Configurations) series (1972-76). Throughout the series, the geometry of the city is emphasized by bodies that mirror shapes in architecture, and the prints are accented with interventions such as the red line in Encirclement or in black ink applied over silver gelatin prints. While in Encirclement the artist's body contours the curb, in other photographs of the same series her body appears in fetal position contrasting with the hard edge of a building. The series also contains images of her body becoming bridges and triangles when juxtaposed with the city's architecture.

According to the artist, in this work the body externalizes internal states by depicting the contrast between the organicity of the human body and the severity of the urban landscape, while also presenting the body as a complement to the architecture and urban setting. Although the Körperkonfigurationen series is not as provocative as EXPORT's Aktionhose: Genitalpanik or Tapp und Tastkino, this series still considers questions of gender. As noted by the art critic Roberta Smith on the occasion of EXPORT's first solo exhibition in New York in 2000, "EXPORT seems to be haunting Vienna, inserting herself into places that are overpowering and by definition male."

Gelatin silver print with red ink - Museum of Modern Art, New York City


Unsichtbare Gegner (Invisible Adversaries)

Unsichtbare Gegner (Invisible Adversaries) is EXPORT's first feature film. An experimental film, it is based loosely around a plot that centers on the character of Anna, a photographer played by Susanne Widl. Set over the course of approximately a year, it follows Anna as she becomes convinced that a group called the Hyksos, a mysterious ancient Egyptian tribe known for their sudden appearance and disappearance, have appeared on earth and are replacing people with their doubles. Although examining Anna's experience of alienation from herself and the world around her, the film is not focused on recounting a narrative but instead uses the plot as a hinge through which to interrogate themes of gender, relationships and society. Directed and produced by EXPORT, and written by EXPORT and Peter Wiebel (who also played the role of Anna's boyfriend), the film draws on tropes of science fiction - particularly the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers - in order to re-imagine them through feminism.

The film, which uses a number of avant-garde cinematic techniques, is edited almost as a collage and reflects the artist's interests and influences, such as Surrealism, still photography, and her childhood obsession with the Hyksos. Unsichtbare Gegner is simultaneously a commercial and a fine art film. It was acclaimed by the critics, being called "a witty and visually brilliant essay on gender and experience, culture and environment" and "of the richest avant-garde features of the 1970s."

Film (color, sound) 104 minutes

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Content compiled and written by Vitoria Hadba-Groom

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"VALIE EXPORT Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Vitoria Hadba-Groom
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 16 Jul 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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