Born in 1940 in (Austria)
Lives and works in Wien (Austria )
Liste expositions

Lecture at the Centre Pompidou, "Vidéo et Après", 2008, June,16th


VALIE EXPORT’s pioneering work is essential for a generation of artists – men and women alike – who have taken an interest in the representation of the body and identity since the 1980s. She was one of the first women artists to explore the complexity of the relationships between subjectivity, the construction of gender and the media, by showing that identity falls within the whole of these relationships.’ [1]

VALIE EXPORT’s protean work includes performances, photographs, videos, drawings, writings, fiction films and installations. All of these practices serve for her questioning of women’s social role in patriarchal society since the Second World War.

Until the age of 14, the artist attended a convent school and these years were marked by a very religious vision of life and an obsession with God and religion. From 1955 to 1958,  VALIE EXPORT studied in the textile division of the School of Decorative Arts in Linz, where she made her first self-portraits, Metamorphosen der Identität (Metamorphoses of identity). She then moved to Vienna and continued her training in the design section of the Higher Technical College for the Textile Industry from 1960 to 1964. For the next three years, she worked in the film industry as a script girl, editor and extra and wrote her first scenario in 1966.

The decisive moment, however, came in 1967, when, within the context of her approach to identity, Waltraud Höllinger became VALIE EXPORT. This new name, at once a concept and a logo, must be written in upper-case letters: VALIE for femininity and EXPORT in reference to Smart Export, a brand of cigarettes with strong macho connotations. The following year, she made VALIE EXPORT – SMART EXPORT, a black-and-white photograph where she represents herself in an advertising caricature, thus providing her with the opportunity to construct a visual manifesto around her logo-name.

In 1968, she met the Viennese avant-garde film group constituted around Peter Weibel, Kurt Kren and Ernst Schmidt, Jr. and with them, founded the Austrian Filmmakers Cooperative. She also became a member of the Wiener Institut für Direkte Kunst alongside the Vienna Actionists Otto Muehl, Gunter Brus and Hermann Nitsch, who sought to liberate post-war society from ‘reactionary’ structures of thought. On the basis of these encounters, VALIE as to develop a personal vocabulary questioning the body in space and in the moving image through the use of video and interactive installations.

Like the Actionists, VALIE EXPORT used her body as the basis of her work and sought to go beyond society’s limits and confront the public directly. Her work differed from theirs, however, in its radically feminist argument. In her Body Sign Action (1970), she had her upper thigh tattooed with a garter holding the top of a stocking; for her, this was the symbol of the female slavery of the past. In opposition to the misogyny of the Viennese Actionists, she performed the action Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit (From the portfolio of doggishness, 1968), during which she led artist Peter Weibel, walking on all fours, through the centre of Vienna on a leash.

VALIE EXPORT’s performances have a genuinely provocative aim. Early on, these works called for a reaction from the viewer rather than a contemplation of the object. Nor does her work lay claim to any particular aesthetic which might diminish the force of her argument. At the end of the 1960s, the artist abandoned museums and galleries, which were too conservative for her experimental projects, and chose to present her performances in the street, within an everyday context. She thus addressed herself to an uninformed public, which was surprised by the aggressiveness of her actions. For her performance Aktionshose-Genitalpanik (Action Pants-Genital Panic, 1969), she walked up and down the queues of Munich’s pornographic cinemas wearing pants cut open at the crotch and brandishing a shotgun before the spectators’ eyes.

In actions which may be compared to those of Marina Abramovic, Michel Journiac or Gina Pane, she subjected her body to physical and psychological violence to represent the sufferings endured by the female body. She defined this work as Media Aktionism. During the performance Eros/ion (1971), she rolled naked on shards of glass and then imprinted the trace of her wounds on blank paper as a way of changing the vision of the female nude. In the video Remote. . . Remote (1973), she slices into her fingers with the blade of a cutter and lets the blood drip into a bowl of milk on her lap.

VALIE EXPORT’s confrontation with the new technologies began in 1966 with works in the line of ‘expanded cinema’, which abandoned the classic movie theatre and traditional conditions of presentation. She describes expanded cinema as ‘the expansion of the commonplace form of film on the open stage or within a space, through which the commercial-conventional sequence of filmmaking – shooting, editing (montage), and projection – is broken up.’ In her view, it is ‘a collage expanded around time and several spatial and medial layers, which, as a formation in time and space, breaks free from the two-dimensionality of the surface’[2]. Her expanded cinema works served ent her performances (Cutting, 1967). In Tapp und Tastkino/Touch Cinema (1968), an action presented for the first time at the 2nd Maraisiade Junger Film in Vienna, she denounced the abuse of women’s bodies in the cinema. She walked through the streets of the city wearing a cardboard box which covered her naked breasts while Peter Weibel used a megaphone to invite the public to approach and touch her through an opening in the front of the box. Here, VALIE EXPORT created a contradiction by offering a very erotic part of her body to the public. As she explains, ‘I felt it was necessary to use the female body to create art. I knew that by being nude, I was going to profoundly intrigue the pubic. There was no pornographic or erotico-sexual desire involved. And this is where the contradiction arose.’

During the 1970s, the provocative punch of her work subsided in favour of an investigation of the relationship of the body to urban and rural space. Körperkonfiguration (Body Configuration series, 1972-1982) is a project taking the form of a photographic investigation in which the artist placed her body in a landscape like a living sculpture. Through this work, she stresses the spatial perception inherent in the body and explores the possibilities of positioning the body in space.

VALIE EXPORT has also taken an interest in interactive installations (Split Reality, 1970) and videos for Austrian television (Facing a Family, 1971). In 1984, she made her third fiction film, Die Praxis der Liebe (The Practice of Love), selected for the official competition at the Berlin International Film Festival. In 1989, she created her first digital photographs mixing women’s faces and architectural elements.

Writing is another means for VALIE EXPORT to express her ideological and political involvement. She has written several manifestos (Women’s Art. A Manifesto, 1973), theoretical works (Aspects of Feminist Actionism and The Real and Its Double: The Body) and historical studies (on women writers such as Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein).

She taught video at the University of Wisconsin between 1983 and 1991. From 1991 to 1995 she was a professor at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin and then at the Kunsthochschule für Medien in Cologne, where she taught multimedia and performance until 2005.


Priscilia Marques

Translation: Miriam Rosen


[1] Giovanna Zapperi, ‘VALIE EXPORT’, Journal du Centre National de la Photographie (Paris), no. 20, September 2003.

[2] Vienna, textof lecture from 1970s, VALIE EXPORT archives.