In TAP and TOUCH CINEMA—the 1968 performance documented in this short video—EXPORT entered a crowded Munich square wearing a specially constructed box over her nude torso. She stood silently while fellow artist Peter Weibel used a megaphone to invite passersby to reach inside the box for thirty seconds at a time. This iconic feminist action is a work of “expanded cinema,” a set of ideas and practices developed by artists and theorists in the 1960s and ’70s to test the conventions that had defined the medium of film, opening it up to performance and other interventions. In confronting people with the physical presence of her body, as opposed to the idealized representations of women prevalent in film, television, and print, TAP and TOUCH CINEMA was—in the artist’s words—the “first immediate women’s film.”
Born Waltraud Lehner, the artist adopted a new artistic identity as she announced her presence in postwar Vienna’s male-dominated art scene in 1968. In a bold gesture, she borrowed a name from everyday consumer culture: Export was a popular brand of cigarettes. Among her contemporaries were the Vienna Actionists, a highly visible group of male artists who staged actions, many of them in public spaces, featuring their own bodies. EXPORT’s interventions, unlike theirs, critiqued the objectification of women in contemporary society and were in dialogue with cinema and the mass media.
At age twenty-eight, Waltraud Hollinger changed her name to VALIE EXPORT, in all uppercase letters, to announce her presence in the Viennese art scene. Eager to counter the male-dominated group of artists known as the Vienna Actionists including Günter Brus, Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch, and Rudolf Schwarzkoglershe sought a new identity that was not bound by her father's name (Lehner) or her former husband's name (Hollinger). Export was the name of a popular cigarette brand. This act of provocation would characterize her future performances, especially TAPP und TASTKINO (TOUCH and TAP Cinema) and Aktionhose: Genitalpanik (Action Pants: Genital Panic). Challenging the public to engage with a real woman instead of with images on a screen, in these works she illustrated her notion of "expanded cinema," in which film is produced without celluloid; instead the artist's body activates the live context of watching. Born of the 1968 revolt against modern consumer and technical society, her defiant feminist action was memorialized in a picture taken the following year by the photographer Peter Hassmann in Vienna. VALIE EXPORT had the image screenprinted in a large edition and fly-posted it in public spaces.
Gallery label from Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960–1980, September 5, 2015–January 3, 2016.