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The Art Story Homepage Artists VALIE EXPORT


Austrian Photographer, Filmmaker, and Performance Artist


Born: May 17, 1940 - Linz, Austria

"Art is a synthesis, a connection of perception, imagination, and idioms into a kind of knowledge always to be seen in its social, scientific, and technological relation. Knowledge: seizing of an object by a subject in a world of variable condition."


VALIE EXPORT's work is expressly political, questioning the ways in which society functions, and particularly how women are perceived and treated. She is recognized as one of the most important early feminist artists, who reconsiders the ways in which the body is presented and challenges its representation as passive in conventional film and media, offering complex and challenging depictions of women's experience. Developing her practice during the 1960s in an Austria that was still coming to terms with its role in the Second World War, and influenced by Viennese Actionism, her early work consisted of performances in which she challenged public audiences with sexualized actions that asked them to examine women's experience, with a focus on the ways in which their bodies were subject to the male gaze in cinema. She explored these ideas in a range of mediums, taking an approach that encompassed different styles and techniques in her practice and writing texts that outlined the importance of feminism in art and film. Over her long career she has continued to make work about gender and society and to teach on avant-garde practice and its relationship to political work.

Key Ideas

EXPORT sees the body as an artistic material - she is interested in undermining the conventions of representing women's bodies in various ways, including offering her body to strangers to touch, exposing her genitals to her audiences, pointing out the ways in which femininity is constructed, and portraying the ways in which relationships ask women to adopt certain roles. She works with performance and film in order to consider the realities of women's bodies, rather than their fantasy depictions.
The name VALIE EXPORT is an important part of her practice, adopted by the artist in 1967 it represents her rejection of patriarchal structures. Her new name was created as both a new, self-fashioned identity and an artistic concept, with VALIE an alternative spelling of her nickname (Walie) and EXPORT inspired by the branding on the pack for Smart Export cigarettes. It was the term 'Export' that had most significance for the artist; she saw the gesture as exporting her identity in order to create something entirely new.
EXPORT is known for her development of a version of 'expanded cinema', a way of thinking about film that explores the possibilities of the medium beyond the projection of a film strip on a screen. Encompassing performance, photography, and interactive installations, as well as avant-garde cinematic techniques, EXPORT wants to make film a more interactive, intersubjective experience, rejecting the passive experience of the cinema and instead asking the audience to be actively involved in the work.

From an early age, VALIE EXPORT was attuned to the social injustices around her and particularly to gender inequality. She recalls noticing that "something was really not right, that boys were allowed to do so much more than girls." Raised amongst women, she was born Waltraud Lehner in 1940 in Linz, Austria and lived with her mother, a teacher, and her three sisters (her father had died in combat in Africa fighting in the Second World War for the Nazis when she was an infant). As a young child she was raised religious and studied in a convent school until she turned 14. Entering adulthood in a resurgent Europe that was still in the process of restructuring itself in the aftermath of war and nationalism, but was also marked by a youth movement in which people were beginning to explore new ways of thinking about society, EXPORT became interested in issues of justice particularly as they related to gender and turned to art as a means to express these.

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