VALIE EXPORT is an Austrian avant-garde feminist artist best known for her photography and radical performances that raise discussions around the female body and the male gaze.
VALIE was a mother and a housewife before beginning her artistic career when she moved to Vienna in the Sixties. ‘Feminism at the time allowed you to choose who you are’ says EXPORT.
Born as Waltraud Lehner, and later Waltraud Höllinger, in 1967, the artist dropped her father’s and husband’s names to create her new identity as VALIE EXPORT, which became her trademark.
TateShots met Valie in Vienna.
VALIE EXPORT speaking
That's all very interesting, very exciting
Maybe we do that again
Let's do it like this instead
My first selfie
This is the atelier of VALIE EXPORT.
Why EXPORT? VALIE was a nickname, and I export my own thoughts. I'm very happy I chose that name because I created my own identity. I was frustrated, but then feminism at that time allowed you to choose who you are.
I take photography as a female artist and as a human being, from my own point of view.
You have to go against some of the rules of the state that suppress people's liberties. So I started writing my name in capital letters, made myself a stamp and that stamp became my trademark. This became my brand.
The centre of my work is the body and moreover the female body. Also, I wanted to give some attributes back to the female body that were taken away.
I was married for a year and had a daughter. My daughter was raised by my sister. I left for Vienna in 1960 to go to art school. This was a big step for me because everyone at school quickly found out that I was divorced and already had a child. This was just unheard of back in those days. Eventually I got into the art scene and began working independently.
I'm going to show you the poster of Action Pants: Genital Panic. Wearing these pants with the crotch cut out, I walked through the rows of a cinema. It wasn't in a porn cinema like the legend has it. As if I would've walked with a machine gun into a porn cinema [laughs]. You've got to admit it was very punky.
Later on, I staged this and got a photographer and hung it up in the street of Vienna. They always immediately got ripped of the walls, but nobody knew who put them up there. From 1970 onwards, I suggested this work for exhibitions, but nobody wanted to show it.
I lived in this building, just up there, from about 1964 until 1978 in that far corner. This was a very famous building back in the day where a lot of artists lived. A lot of my works were produced here, a whole series of Body Configurations for example.
Here was the action. Just like this. I think it was here and in that corner. This nunnery gave me a lot of impulses and inspired me. I knew every stone in this yard because I lived her for such a long time
VALIE: Where did you live?
Man: I live on the 3rd floor up there looking over the park.
VALIE: Ah, you look over the park, nice view. Your face seemed familiar.
Man: I thought you had to be VALIE EXPORT.
Here I filmed at the Hotel Imperial. Treats, forbidden ones. I quite like the Austrian culture. The atmosphere in Vienna is quite beautiful in terms of architecture.
This is also a very interesting location where I did Body Configurations. These places were selected on purpose. Many of them were historical buildings
Restorer: As you see here...You know best yourself.
VALIE: Yes, it's damaged.
Restorer: It's damaged, there are many fingerprints and discolourations on the surface as you can see here also several areas of silverfish corrosion.
VALIE: Ah, interesting
Restorer: That's the reason why it's here at the Institute for Paper Restoration. Was this just normal gouache paint?
Restorer: Which was available back then?
VALIE: Just like the one children had in school.
Restorer: Often I use spit, it's a very good cleaner.
VALIE: I find it very interesting what you can still learn.
In 1968 Export created ' Tapp und Tastkino' and the part played by the audience was further emancipated in her work. Through her 'Tapp und Taskino' EXPORT developed a theory of feminist Actionism. The theory was a declaration concerning the image of women in our culture... through the coding of women's social role.
Even though it was called Tap and Touch cinema, the most important thing was the gaze. Everyone was staring at us trying to figure out exactly what was happening in this cinema that nobody could look into. It seemed obvious from the outside but only the two of us knew what was or wasn't going on inside.
In Austria and in Vienna strong feminist aspirations didn't really exist. I always thought women should have as much power as men. It's about power, the power to change things. I think the creative process comes from life itself.