The Virtual Body. From the Prosthetic to the Post-biological Body
VALIE EXPORT Center Linz in cooperation with the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.)
Ed. by Marius Babias and Sabine Folie
Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König, Cologne, 2020
“This essayist documentary relates the history of the body as a journey of body representations and performances, from the earliest civilizations up until our digital era. It deals with body rituals, body movements and body inscriptions in different cultures, with the civilized body in arts and science, and finally with the virtual, intangible body. It tells of replicants, hybrids, chimeras, avatars, aliens, robots, girl monsters, and cyber feminists. But also of modern genetic research and its dream of artificial life.”
VALIE EXPORT, Sprich Körper [Speak Body], 2011, synopsis to a later version of the script, VALIE EXPORT Center Linz (VEC), bundle 148.
By writing the script The Virtual Body. From the Prosthetic to the Post-biological Body in the late 1990s, VALIE EXPORT continues a project the concept of which seems to trace back to the very beginning of her work as an artist. The script does not constitute a singular event that owes its existence to the zeitgeist, it is rather the continuation of an exploration of the body as an entity, a body that is marked, made docile, monitored, and constantly altered by technological and social paradigms.
In the years around year 1987, shortly before work began on the “Digital Photography” series around 1989 – works using the digital techniques of the computer – several projects were created almost simultaneously. They can be interpreted as precursors of her 1999 script on the “Virtual Body” and include a script on Unica Zürn, Unica (Dunkler Frühling) (1987), an exposé for a film on Ada Lovelace, Ada Lady Lovelace (1987), an exposé for the film Alaska (later subtitled Anagrammatischer Film), an exposé for a “Video/Computer Tape (Work in progress)” titled MACHINE BODIES – BODY MACHINES. BODY SPACE – The Presence of Utopia (working title, 1987), or the lecture “Das Reale und sein Double: Der Körper.” Potential, virtual, queer bodies are also fantasized in the unrealized film Grenzenlose Liebe (also: Die Meta-Morphose) from the year 1989/1990.
At this point, the idea that she could dedicate herself to a comprehensive history of the “Virtual Body” seems natural, but the idea to realize a film on this subject still had to wait another decade. The Virtual Body. From the Prosthetic to the Post-biological Body was not to be an “anagrammatic film,” no phantasmagoria of identities involving the use of cinematic tools like montage, collage, etc., but was rather intended to be a survey using a great number of textual and visual sources woven into a condensed plot. A survey –from a formal point of view a kind of textual montage, sampling – considering scientific, technological, and artistic knowledge of the late 1990s on controversial topics regarding artificial intelligence, the concept of space and time in the digital world, and the vision of the prosthetic.
However, the era of production of essay films conceptualized for television that examined specific subjects – which were artistically ambitious but at the same time directed towards an audience socialized by mass media –may have been over by the 1990s. In the 1980s, EXPORT had been commissioned by the ORF to produce several of these films for the format “Kunststücke”: the three-part The Armed Eye – VALIE EXPORT in a Dialogue with the Film Avant-Garde in 1984, on the themes of: “Staged Space – Staged Time,” “Real Movement – Movable Reality,” and “Structural Film”; Table Quotes followed in 1985, Yukon Quest in 1986, and Action Art International in 1989.
The video essay on the “Virtual Body” was originally conceived to be 90 minutes long, but after extensive preparations (since 1994), its production was put on hold for the time being in July 1999 due to cuts in the budget of “Kunststücke” and eventually remained unrealized.
The script has now been carefully commented and illustrated and published for the first time.
(exzerpt from the introduction for the publication of the script)
This publication is a cooperation between the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.) and the VALIE EXPORT Center Linz:
VALIE EXPORT, The Virtual Body. From the Prosthetic to the Post-biological Body, edited by Marius Babias and Sabine Folie, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König, Cologne, 2020.