VALIE EXPORT. Facing a Family. 1971. Video (black and white, sound), 4:37 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of VALIE EXPORT and Miryam and Daniel Charim. © 2021 VALIE EXPORT

VALIE EXPORT’s Facing a Family screened here December 21, 2021–January 5, 2022. The video is no longer available for streaming. Join us for the next Hyundai Card Video Views screening, beginning January 12, 2022.

Austrian viewers tuning into their evening television program on February 28, 1971, found themselves faced with a surprising sight: a family, bathed in the light of a TV set, impassively looking back at them. VALIE EXPORT described her video, Facing a Family, as an “imaginary screen,” an “expanded movie,” and a “TV action” in which both families—one on screen, the other presumably at home—were participants. Commissioned by the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, EXPORT’s meditation on “television in the family; the family in television” tapped into cultural shifts around a medium that was drawing new lines between private and public imagery. That same year saw the filming of An American Family, a groundbreaking televised documentary that broadcast the daily life of Santa Barbara’s Loud family over the course of 12 episodes when it started airing on PBS in 1973.

In the 1960s, EXPORT approached the still-new medium of video to experiment with performance and gesture, making use of its immediacy and feedback. With Facing a Family, the artist shifted focus to study the social implications of mass communication. Calling attention to the very act of viewership, Facing a Family envisions a pre-Internet means of connecting to each other within the walls of one’s own home while presaging contemporary phenomena like online surveillance and reality television. At the same time, the work’s deadpan humor and delightful visual wit evoke a tradition of artistic interpretations of the nuclear family in the 1970s and after, as seen in the work of artists such as George Kuchar, Gillian Wearing, and Sondra Perry. Recently, I spoke with EXPORT via email about her groundbreaking video.

We wish you and yours a joyful holiday season. Join us in January for the next edition of Hyundai Card Video Views, as the series continues its consideration of how artists engage with the technologies that have become central to our daily lives.

–Sophie Cavoulacos, Associate Curator, Department of Film

VALIE EXPORT. Preparatory drawing for Facing a Family. 1971

VALIE EXPORT. Preparatory drawing for Facing a Family. 1971

Sophie Cavoulacos: Can you describe the making of your 1971 video Facing a Family?

VALIE EXPORT: When I began to work with video in the early 1970s, an important aspect was the “feedback feed,” or how one saw oneself on television, in the monitor. Facing a Family shows a story in which a family looks at the television—or, rather, a family looks out of the television—and the real family looks back at the mediated family. The initial idea was to show this during the news broadcast. The news is briefly interrupted and you see a family looking out of the TV at the real family sitting in front of the TV. Unfortunately this was not allowed, but that was the idea.

What reactions did the live broadcast garner when the piece was shown live on Austrian television?

Facing a Family was shown as part of an experimental video and film series called “Impulse,” so it was already identified as an art piece, but it still caused strong reactions, because the viewers did not expect to see themselves on television and thought it might be a malfunction in the broadcast.

How do you reflect on the work now, with the profound and ongoing shifts in the role of moving technologies in our daily lives? What do you see as the legacy of artists experimenting with television?

Unfortunately I only ever see it in connection with exhibitions or film projections, in museums and galleries. It does remind us that technology has changed a lot, and provides a contrast with how we experience today’s technology. Moving image technology has become ever more central in our lives and tied to the creation of value—production value, economic and cultural value. But it’s not about nostalgia for the past—this is the course of moving forward, always moving forward, always moving forward. Moving forward in life, in our ideas, for the planet.

The legacy of artists who experimented with television early on is that we drew attention to how this new technology functioned. This is our legacy, and it allows our successors to see how the technology has evolved and changed.

Thank you for sharing your insights and thoughts with us. We’re wishing you a safe and restorative holiday season! Is there anything you’re looking forward to in 2022?

I also wish you a restful and safe holiday season, and hoping that 2022 will be a year that makes many things easier for us. I am looking forward to many things that are currently ailing us getting better, or to us being able to bear them better. I would be pleased if I could read that the wars that take place everywhere are decreasing, and that the place of power and violence in our world would be diminished. I wish that in 2022 we become aware of the need for peace in our world. My wish for myself is to be able to keep and hold on to this positive energy.

VALIE EXPORT's Time and Countertime is now on view at MoMA.

Media and Performance at MoMA is made possible by Hyundai Card.

Major support is provided by the Jill and Peter Kraus Endowed Fund for Contemporary Exhibitions.

Generous funding is provided by the Lonti Ebers Endowment for Performance and the Sarah Arison Fund for Performance.