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Valie Export
Lindenstraße 35, 10969 Berlin, Germany
April 26, 2013 - June 15, 2013

Gooey Contingency
by Bryndís Björnsdóttir

A mall is an efficient space aimed at making your needs conveniently accessible. Even the space itself offers mechanic facilities that provide a bodily extension; perceived needs and desires are met with every modern convenience. On Lindenstrasse 34-35 in Berlin, eleven galleries are joined in compact housing, a mall of art, if you will. An elevator large enough for a single person carries you up to the third floor where you find ŻAK | BRANICKA and its current exhibition, Images of Contingency, by Austrian artist VALIE EXPORT.

This upward mechanical deliverance of a body – your body – in a mall of galleries is a fitting entrance for EXPORT’s exhibition, which considers the relationships between body and machine, nature and technology. As for the gallery-mall, well, capitalism is, of course, implied in the very name of the artist. In an act of self-definition, the artist chose her name to differentiate herself from both her father and her former husband. “EXPORT”, appropriated from a cigarette label, also refers to the artist’s exporting herself away from what she saw as the given culturally constructed position of women in society. This act of identity assumption was EXPORT’s first move upon entering the Viennese art scene in 1967, more precisely Viennese Actionism, to which she added her own brand: Feminist Actionism. The Feminist Actionism manifesto proposes a way for women to gain subject-hood through the act of doing, thus removing themselves from their object status drawn from the “enslavement of the male creator”. Indeed, women’s representation and image within a society is EXPORT’s leitmotif in her pioneering works of performance art, feminism, and action art. She decisively attacks expected femininity within society, proclaiming in her text “The Real and its Double: The Body” (1989) that the natural body of a woman does not exist and must be reconstructed.

Valie ExportKörperkonfiguration, 1982/2001, 122 x 184 cm,  photography; Courtesy of the artist and ŻAK | BRANICKA gallery, Berlin.


EXPORT exposes these cultural (re)constructions with a dialogue between nature and technology, body and machine, and she decisively tests their boundaries and points of intersection. Her installation Fragments of Images of Contingence (1994), from which the title of her current exhibition is drawn, features the penetrating mechanical act of suspended light bulbs being routinely immersed in clear cylinders varyingly filled with water, milk, or oil. Installed at ŻAK | BRANICKA, the work captures the combustive junction of nature and technology. The continuous rhythmic and piercing motion of the merging elements becomes as natural as any act of conception. The liquids in question are “fundamental to our existence”; water and milk exist naturally within the make up of the mammal body. In the gooey oil, on the other hand, there are implicit social and political constructs that define it as essential in a different way. Its fundamentality comes from the shared values and technologies of civilization, rather than its biochemical reality.

The installation performs a harmoniously controlled situation of potential combustion of impregnation. Yet its orderly control does not fully mask the scenario’s hazardous arrangement, for what could happen if something went wrong in this mixing of electricity and liquid? The body could be in peril. It is a vibrant, vicious circle of man-made constraint that alludes to EXPORT’s thoughts of technology and body being the “bijections of a work of culture from which woman can’t extract herself, not even in the radical case of technology of reproduction”.

Valie Export, Die un-endliche/ -ähnliche Melodie der Stränge [the un-ending/ -ique melody of cords], 1998, video installation, 10 video monitors, 3 DVDs, 10 steel pedestals, dimensions variable;  installation view at ŻAK | BRANICKA gallery, Berlin, 2013 / photo: Eric Tschernow.


The work’s conflation of body and technology exemplifies EXPORT’s notion of contingency: “how and where you perceive borders, and how and where and when borders explode”. As if by design, I encountered a situation of contingency when entering the exhibition; the installation had not been switched on. Distracted in her immaterial ghost presence in front of the computer, a female gallery employee was reminded to activate her body with the gentle motion of flicking a switch. The female body and mechanical apparatus briefly united in the work of cultural production, as banal as it is generative.

Incidentally, throughout much of EXPORT’s tenure at ŻAK | BRANICKA, Berlin was filled with bodies involved in a less mundane form of cultural production during the Month of Performance festival. I partook in the festival myself and a man approached me to express his surprise and delight at seeing a woman performing, as that was not allowed in his home country. Two steps away from the wave of feminism demonstrated by EXPORT one can still wonder about the contingency of the male and female relationship.


Bryndís Björnsdóttir


{Image on top: Valie Export, Fragmente der Bilder einer Berührung, [Fragments of Images of Contingence], 1994, 12 elements; 12 light bulbs, 12 glass cylinders with milk, used oil, water, 12 rods (495 cm each); © ŻAK | BRANICKA gallery, Berlin.}

Posted by Bryndís Björnsdóttir on 5/29/13 | tags: installation performance mixed-media feminism actionism viennese

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