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Invisible scars : the feminist rhetoric of Valie Export Adams, Gwendolyn Marilyn

Abstract

Valie Export is one of Austria's leading multimedia artists. This thesis explores her feminist rhetoric as expressed in the body of her artistic and cinematic works during the 1960s and 1970s. I recount the artistic development of Export through her association with the Viennese Actionists (1964-1969) and the multimedia artist Peter Weibel. In this thesis I attempt to distinguish Export's unique brand of feminism from that prevalent in America and the rest of Europe by placing it within the regional and historical context of post-Nazi Austria. Valie Export used her body to present images meant to challenge contemporary Austria's strict gender roles and conservative artistic traditions. Export's feminism has often fuelled debate around the question: if all women could relate to being powerless individuals in society, could they understand the implications of being victims of fascism? A lucid narrative of Export's feminist aesthetic emerges when examining works like Tapp und Tast Kino (Tap and Touch Cinema) (1968) and Aktionshose: Genitalpanik (Actionpants: Genitalpanic) (1968). I expand upon why Export used powerful images in her actions to shock her viewers out of their state of indifference. My thesis also explores why Export pushed her body to physical extremes to stress the importance of her feminist aesthetic during the 1970s. I examine Export's involvement in performance art through two, of what she labels, body-material interactions entitled Eros/ion (1971) and Hyperhulie (Hyperbole) (1973). In these actions I consider the masochistic bond between performer and viewer as more than a 'Contract with the Skin' as expressed by the art historian Kathy O'Dell. Finally, I reveal Export's preoccupation with Freud's studies of female hysteria and psychoneuroses as found throughout her most influential film entitled Unsichtbare Gegner (Invisible Adversary) (1976). Anna, the film's main protagonist, is revealed to embody the myth of the psychotic Viennese woman, simultaneously revealing that she is an allegory for the struggle of Austrian feminists against the Nazis ideal of womanhood, and an icon for women's alleged inability to be separated from sign and meaning. The last chapter of this thesis examines how Anna is continually looking for objective validation of her subjective perceptions. In view of this, Export's film is an especially poignant investigation into the multi-layering of visual signs and codes. Finally, what emerges during the course of this film is that invisible adversaries are eventually made visible. Export opened up questions and challenges with this film to probe inter-human relations, their social encodedness and cultural language, which communicated not only a sense of social alienation, but also a troubled post-war Austrian society.

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