Crossing Europe 2020 – EXTRACTS
Essay: Feminism and Media AvantGarde.
Brigitta Burger-Utzer

There is no doubt that VALIE EXPORT is one of Austria’s most versatile and internationally renowned artists, whose impact and influence continue to persist. The reason being that her oeuvre is marked by the development of a radical actionist feminism on the one hand and by an avant-garde approach towards new media technology on the other. In her choice of artistic materials, in particular the (own) body, she is in line with Marina Abramovic, Carolee Schneemann or Joan Jonas, yet she may be unique as regards her versatility of artistic expression. 

Her unwavering interest in cultural representations of the female body is articulated in a multimedia practice and theory that includes installations, conceptual photography, drawings, sculptures, texts, performances, films, and videos. Central to her oeuvre is the moving image, in the form of original cinematic works or incorporated into installations. Within the realm of film and video art, she captivates with a range of modes all of which are featured in this Tribute program. VALIE EXPORT’s three feature films bring together ideas and art objects for a narrative cinema that she had already put to the test in her artistic practice: “The narrative facilitates the conveying of subjects and content.”?[1]

In Invisible Adversaries (1976), photographer Anna doubts the reality of her experiences. She can no longer assess if the cause is her altered perception or the change of the people and of the objective world around her. Sometimes this destabilized woman is described as schizophrenic, but perhaps she may also be seeking her very own identity.

EXPORT addresses in many of her works that this quest is doomed to failure or successful only with a sacrifice: “because man has defined the image of woman for both man and woman, men create and control the social and communication media such as science and art, word and image, fashion and architecture, social transportation and division of labor, (…) if reality is a social construction and men its engineers, we are dealing with a male reality.”?[2]

The Practice of Love (1984) also sees a woman trying and failing to establish herself in a male working world. This thriller about a socially critical journalist who uncovers corruption in business and politics also illustrates a fundamental discrepancy: the combination of female sexuality and heterosexual eroticism (the main character has two lovers) with an intellectual mind leads to energy-consuming conflicts and bitter disappointment.

EXPORT quite intentionally uses a lot of clichés in Human Females (1979) to portray the relationships of four women with each other and with one man. From a web of relations that satisfies no one grows utopian freedom for some and the abyss for the others. One way or the other, the protagonists in EXPORT’s feature films are never ordinary heroines but complex female characters with demons, expectations, and suffering.

In the relatively short period that saw Expanded Cinema being pushed forward in its deconstruction of the cinematic dispositif in Austria and in numerous presentations by the artists at home and abroad, VALIE EXPORT (frequently together with Peter Weibel) was front and center. Many of her performances were not recorded and today only exist as concepts with theoretical backgrounds or photographs. On Adjunct Dislocations (1973), VALIE EXPORT wrote: “not only is something shown, showing itself is shown, not only is something portrayed, portrayal itself is portrayed. a sense of space is created in a way possible only with film: seeing oneself from the front and back simultaneously, from above and below, and from outside in the center of the space.”?[3] The first performance of the TAPP und TASTKINO was in Vienna in 1968, after that in many locations in Germany and the Netherlands. The only remaining recording is from an action in Munich in 1969 that was done especially for the TV program “Apropos Film”: Peter Weibel is on the megaphone, inviting people to visit the box/cinema installed over EXPORT’s breasts and giving political speeches.

VALIE EXPORT’s criticism of representation which is feminist in nature had to lead to an enhancement of Expanded Cinema, to the use of the/her body as artistic material in body actions, later called performances. In Man & Woman & Animal she gives a performance made especially for film: first she soberly demonstrates the hedonistic ritual of masturbation, then, under the grotesque sounds of male grunting, she turns the attention to the sperm and blood covered vagina. This raises the question whether, contrary to popular claims, the animal unites man and woman instead of separating them.

The media-reflexive performances by VALIE EXPORT, such as Visual Text: Finger Poem (1968/73), Breath Text: Love Poem (1970/73), and Body Tape (1970), and later on the voice as performance, act and body (2007) are examples of her decadeslong examination of language as a form of communication and of the subject’s voice as part of an identity that is hard to constitute.

At the end of the 1960s, Austrian television opened itself up for contemporary art with programs like “Impulse” and, later, “Kunststücke”, where many media artists presented or for which they even designed works of their own. VALIE EXPORT was on board from the start, creating not only socially and media critical works but also educational programs on experimental film and action art plus four documentaries. Das bewaffnete Auge. VALIE EXPORT im Dialog mit der Filmavantgarde (1984) is a three-part overview of the major movements from the 1920s up until performance works by Yvonne Rainer, a sister artist in spirit. 

Brigitta Burger-Utzer, film agent and film curator (sixpackfilm) |


[1] In der Erweiterung liegt die Möglichkeit zur Veränderung. Gespräch mit VALIE EXPORT. Von Brigitta Burger-Utzer und Sylvia Szely [Expansion holds the possibility of change. Conversation with VALIE EXPORT. By Brigitta Burger-Utzer and Sylvia Szely]. In “EXPORT LEXIKON. Chronologie der bewegten Bilder bei VALIE EXPORT”, ed. by Sylvia Szely (Vienna, Sonderzahl 2007).
[2] VALIE EXPORT. Woman’s Art. A Manifesto, in “Neues Forum”, 1972, trans. Resina Haslinger, in which only women participated. 
[3] VALIE EXPORT: Adjungierte Dislokationen, concept (page 2). In “EXPORT LEXIKON. Chronologie der bewegten Bilder bei VALIE EXPORT”, ed. by Sylvia Szely (Wien, Sonderzahl 2007).