Valie Export

The pack of Smart Export cigarettes, an Austrian brand, looks a bit worse for the wear—but it is an icon. Accordingly, it is displayed in the foyer in the celebratory manner reserved for relics. The initiated will experience a mild thrill: This is the one, the legendary pack that Valie Export immortalized in the photograph that marked the feminist big bang in the patriarchal-clerical old Vienna of 1967 and which has since made it into practically every publication on the artist.

“Export—always and everywhere,” she once remarked, “that is to say, exporting myself.” And it was meant as a reference to the social structures and repression at the beginning of the ’70s, the “Export” of women of all artistic and creative sorts. And so Waltraud Höllinger, a graduate of the Kunstgewerbeschule in Linz, took the packet of smokes, courtesy of the Austria Tabakwerke, on her path to becoming the poster child of rebellion. She replaced “Smart” with Valie, kept “Export” as well as the motto “semper et ubique,” and pasted a photo portrait of herself on the globe. The logo Valie Export was born.

In film, video, photography, and performance, Export treats the (female) body as a bearer of signs and information, revealing it as a surface of projection. The artist’s works have always tended to be a kind of media criticism as well; she char- acterizes them as “medial anagrams,” and in a 1990 text of that name she writes of “notebooks in which the ‘pages,’ sketches and images, can be put into different orders and make possible new meaning and a new context. The medium is not the only message, or to put it another way, the medium is just one of the messages.” By layering a motif, the factitiousness and mutability of images becomes clear. Export makes visible how image and reality permeate and influence each other.

Polyphony and the combination of different modes of expression are constant in Export’s complex work. Not surprisingly, this exhibition, “Pol ́yp*to”ton,” was a fusion of different media. Here one found sculpture—KöpfeAphärese (Heads—Aphaeresis), 2002, a serial arrangement of sixty heads in bronze, aluminum, and blue wax with cut out faces; film—Tote Menschen schreien nicht (Dead people don’t scream), 2002, a splatter-filled catalogue of mutilated murder victims; and video—Die Macht der Sprache (The power of language), 2002, featuring panoramic views of a (male) glottis, the vaginal appearance of which serves to graft the image of the origin of speech onto the “origine du monde” birth metaphor beloved of Messieurs Courbet, Lacan, and Duchamp. Finally, Icones Musculorum Capitis, 2002, a computer-enhanced anatomical graphic from the eighteenth century, evinces Export’s concern with the technological manipulation of reality. Her agenda includes questioning the systems of representation through which societal realities and symbolic orders are constructed, questioning power and the forms in which it is exercised. What is impressive is the energy and endurance with which Export, the lady with the garter tattoo, treats her themes always in new ways.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.