Since the late ‘60s, VALIE EXPORT has concentrated on the body in her work, with the intention of challenging – in a society characterized by a false egalitarianism of gender – contradictions, pressures, and violence toward women. In her practice, performance is a means of investigating physical and psychological limits or is used as a device to destabilize sexist ideologies.
By Dimitris Lempesis
Photo: Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Archive
The exhibition “Body Configurations 1972-76” at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac presents VALIE EXPORT’s major early works from 1968 to 1976. “VALIE EXPORT – SMART EXPORT” (1970) is one of her most emblematic works, depicts the artist holding a pack of cigarettes – those she was smoking at the time and which were called Smart Export – with her face printed on it. She created her artist’s name of VALIE EXPORT, in capitals, based on this brand of cigarettes (a very manly attribute) in her own words to “Export myself, to bring ideas out of their harbours” and to fight against the prevailing machismo of the Austrian society and the Actionist Viennese art scene. This work is a symbol of extreme self-determination in an aesthetic, social, and political sense and has become an iconic logo for the artist. In 1972, VALIE EXPORT invents the concept of the first international woman exhibition “MAGNA. Feminism: Art and Creativity” (Vienna, 1975), which becomes a reference for the feminists of her time and those who follow in their footsteps. She questions in a nearly phenomenological way the image and role of the female with her series entitled: “Identitätstransfer 1, 2, 3” (1968), where she presents herself “in disguise” to demonstrate the importance of the staging of the female body. It is then followed by a tattoo “BODY SIGN B” (1970) representing a garter on the thigh. This action and its photographic representation speak for themselves. She continues her revolution of the fate of women with “Identitätstransfer B” (1972), which evokes the question of rape, a subject that still resonates today. In this series she underlines the necessity of appropriating one’s own body and taking out the social effects of patriarchal culture. She looks closely into the consequences of these effects on her own body. With these actions, she takes a stance. “Action Pants: Genital Panic” is a set of six identical posters from a larger group that the artist produced to commemorate an action she performed in Munich in 1968. The posters show EXPORT sitting on a bench against a wall out of doors wearing crotchless trousers and a leather shirt and holding a machine-gun. Her feet are bare and vulnerable, as are her genitals, and she holds the gun at chest level, her hair stands up in a wild mop above her head, emphasising the strangeness of the image. The action that gave rise to the photograph “Action Pants: Genital Panic” has become the subject of apocryphal art historical legend. EXPORT performed “Genital Panic” a movie theater in Munich. Wearing trousers from which a triangle had been removed at the crotch, the artist walked between the rows of seated viewers, her exposed genitalia at face-level. The posters were then fly-posted in the streets. ‘” wanted to be provocative, to provoke, but also aggression was part of my intention…I sought to change the people’s way of seeing and thinking”, the artist has said. Works from the “Body Configurations” (1972-76) series are on view in the ground floor and upstairs rooms. They constitute another type of action taking place in the city or in nature, where she uses her body in a nearly sculptural way to underline the lines, the spaces, and the powerful constraints of her surroundings. With this, she proposes, ahead of other practices, to appropriate the exterior as a museum, to act outside. Two video works “BODY TAPE” (1970) and “Remote…, Remote…” (1973), are included in the exhibition. The work of VALIE EXPORT offers us an example of how to invent your own life, while still questioning oneself constantly in order to act on oneself and the exterior.
Info: Curator: Caroline Bourgeois, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, 7 rue Debelleyme, Paris, Duration: 12/1-24/2/18, Days & Hours: Tue-Sat 10:00-19:00, http://ropac.net