Marking One’s Territory: VALIE EXPORT at C/O Berlin
by Esmeralda Gómez Galera

VALIE EXPORT, SMART EXPORT, Self-Portrait, 1970. Courtesy The ALBERTINA Museum, Vienna – The ESSL Collection © VALIE EXPORT, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023. Photography: Gertraud Wolfschwenger

VALIE EXPORT (*1940, Austria) was able to condense with intelligence and humor many of the concerns of 1960s feminism into her own artistic practice. One of the artist's first actions, or more precisely, Waltraud Hollinger's, was to renounce her given name and her husband's surname, adopted upon marriage, in favor of that of a popular Austrian cigarette brand. Through this radical gesture, often seen as the starting point for her career, EXPORT breaks with the patrilineal mechanism of the surname and starts from scratch with her own genealogy. As American artist and writer Mira Schor has pointed out, one of the most common patterns in art historiography and cultural criticism is for the work of women artists to be inserted as descendants of male artistic genealogies. Schor’s proposal in this regard is precisely to open a type of breach that allows us to find and insert ourselves into maternal lineages. EXPORT not only enacts this in the social sphere by renouncing her family name. She introduces these aspirations to the art field through the use of performance – a young discipline whose genealogy had yet to be written.

The exhibition VALIE EXPORT . Retrospective opened at the beginning of the year at C/O Berlin, shedding light on the practice of the Austrian artist as a pioneer of media art and performance. The retrospective includes works made between 1966 and 2009, in which EXPORT experimented primarily with expanded cinema and actions in public space. Documentation of some iconic actions from the late 1960s can be seen, such as TAPP und TASTKINO (Touch Cinema, 1968) or Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit (From the Portfolio of Dogness, 1968). The exhibition also includes a room dedicated to her Körperkonfigurationen (Body Configurations, 1972–1982) or the impressive kinetic installation Fragments of the Images of a Caress (1994). Emblematic moments of EXPORT's transgressive practice, the first two works sharply address the presence of the body in public space as well as the gender issues tied to it.

VALIE EXPORT, From the Portfolio of Dogness, 1968, in cooperation with Peter Weibel. Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac © VALIE EXPORT, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023. Photography: Joseph Tandl

Only a year after changing her name, EXPORT takes Peter Weibel, her collaborator and then partner, for a walk on a dog leash through the central streets of Vienna. Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit is an action that directly touched upon the rising feminist motto “the personal is political”. Translated into spatial terms, it implies that what happens in the realm of the private can be made visible publicly in order to question its normativity. In the performance, this exercise of disruption takes place in motion, showing how a mundane act such as walking can be filled with political implications. Before the attentive gaze of passers-by, EXPORT and Weibel walk along Kärntnerstraße, radicalizing in a provocative and playful way gender roles and their power dynamics. But the political implications of this action are linked to its public nature. What would become of this walk if it had taken place in the intimacy of private space? Here EXPORT crosses the threshold and, by setting foot in the street, challenges the boundaries between public and private.

VALIE EXPORT, TOUCH CINEMA, 1968. Courtesy The ALBERTINA Museum, Vienna – The ESSL Collection © VALIE EXPORT, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023. Photography: Werner Schulz

In the well-known TAPP und TASTKINO, too, this idea can be clearly seen. Concerns about the male gaze and the perception of women’s bodies in cinema, echoed later on in Laura Mulvey's theories of visual pleasure, were central to the piece developed together with Weibel. The work consists of a strange outdoor cinema system. Standing in the street with a portable booth covering her breasts, the artist invites passers-by to touch them for a few seconds. For EXPORT, the street becomes a stage to disrupt the everyday, open breaches in normativity and reveal the sexist biases of her times. Yet how many of these stigmas persist today, and through which radical aesthetics can we address them?

VALIE EXPORT, Injuries I, 1972. Courtesy The ALBERTINA Museum, Vienna – The ESSL Collection © VALIE EXPORT, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023. Photography: Hermann Hendrich

VALIE EXPORT . Retrospective

27/01 – 21/05/2024

C/O Berlin Foundation

Hardenbergstraße 22–24

10623 Berlin