FOR HER 1968 GUERRILLA PERFORMANCE Action Pants: Genital Panic, Austrian artist VALIE EXPORT cut the crotch out of a pair of jeans and wore them while walking—with a generous triangle of pubic hair exposed—through the rows of a Munich art-house cinema. (Previously Waltraud Hollinger, EXPORT took her all-caps name from a brand of cigarettes.) She turned on the theater spotlight and announced that the audience could now observe in real life what they would customarily see on-screen. With her confrontational, feminist brand of Viennese Actionism, EXPORT challenged the cinematic use of the female body as a screen for cultural projection, shocking moviegoers with her controlled self-exposure. Related photographs taken later show EXPORT with a machine gun, mocking the macho rebel of movie posters with her wild hair, leather jacket, cocky poses, and, most important, “use of a frontal shot. Frontal, on the front line.”
The Action Pants (above)—a nonpareil piece of feminist-art memorabilia—were displayed in EXPORT’s recent solo show at the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Vienna. For this retrospective, she supervised the arrangement of materials culled from her archive into fifty-seven display cases. The exhibition’s massive accompanying catalogue includes essays, an in-depth artist interview, and reproductions of each case across two-page spreads. Constellations of production notes, film stills, correspondence, press clippings, and artworks illuminate a rigorous creative process, and chart her significance as a media-art pioneer. In one case, we see a letter outlining charges against an Austrian television-channel official for broadcasting EXPORT’s sexually frank feminist science-fiction film Invisible Adversaries (1976) alongside her hand-annotated treatment for the feature. The letter condemns EXPORT’s movie as obscene, and claims that the artist’s “mental illness exonerates her from responsibility” for the piece. This inclusion, which illustrates the official hostility to her early work, is an example of the kind of material that distinguishes Archiv. The book is more than just a revealing presentation of her private documentation and radical ephemera; it’s EXPORT’s contextualization of a brilliant career, always on the front line.