Katie Wittenberg

As one of the only known female Actionists, Viennese filmmaker Valie EXPORT explored the possibilities of experimentation in cinema during the late 1960’s- early 70’s.

Prior to her work, names such as Stan Brakhage and Michael Snow held major influence in New American Cinema (1960’s). Both artists were known for their work in Structuralism Film making. Film’s of this genre mainly consisted of an emphasis on the material aspects of the film, or qualities found in the film itself. Snow’s film Wavelength 1967, is one such example. In this film, a stationary camera focuses closer and closer on a particular section of a studio apartment over the course of 45 minutes. The area in focus, and even the room are not the subject. Snow chooses to demonstrate the act of “zooming in” as the main initiative, making the actions caused by the camera the primary staple of the film.

Work of Valie EXPORT and other Vinnese filmmakers took the polar opposite approach from both American and European Structuralism. Approaches to their films formed from encounters with Viennese Actionists. These Actionists held “Ritualistic Performances”, often using mud and bodily fluids on and around their bodies to show relations. The idea of incorporating “temporality”, starting first with both the Happenings and the Fluxus, was used as well. The mixing of genres (music, movement, sculpture, etc.) coupled nicely with their intentions of infusing work with interactivity.

As an Actionist, Valie Export also used this method of filmmaking, choosing action over illusion (real over image). She even went at lengths by treating her name and body like a product logo in order to deconstruct gender stereotypes. In her film, Touch Cinema 1968, EXPORT is seen wearing a miniature cinema (box with a small opening in the front) as a bra. Everyday civilians, primarily male, reach their hands into the box and feel her breasts. Most are apprehensive, due to her confidence and unaltered behavior when reaching their hand in, as if expecting her to react differently. This film also couples as a performance, using intermedia as a means for “temporality”.

EXPORT took her work in multiple directions, even creating her own practice as a female filmmaker. One such practice was “Expanded Cinema”. In, An Art of Temporality, Christopher Eamon describes it as, “An experimental film style that explored human perception through the fragmentation of the moving image.” (Eamon, 75). This basically means she uses film to represent and visually represent how we as humans view things. In her film, Hearing Sound/ Seeing Sound 1973-4, EXPORT uses a split screen to show herself in her Vienna Apartment. Both sides are from different angles and are in different proportion as they play simultaneously next to one another. Naturally, the human eye would like to connect the two images into one, but since the actions in both videos never sync, it is difficult to focus on them as a whole. EXPORT further pushes this restriction on the human mind by using a soundtrack of electronic noises that are hard to identify. These restrictions are examples of EXPORT’s interest in protest and revolt.

Another film where EXPORT plays with “point-of-view” is Adjunct Dislocations1973. Here she intends to, “Dissect “point-of-view” as a synthesis of diverse phenomena.” (Eamon,76).  This simply means she wishes to break down the different ways in which we view things and how they are combinations of experiences.  To do this she uses three cameras (one on her back, her front and one held by someone else). She begins by moving along a vertical axis, swinging her arms. Later, she repeats this motion on a horizontal axis. Through this she attempts to, “Regenerate movements into a technically reconstructed whole.” (Eamon, 76). This bodily function of movement, paired with cinema becomes a scene of “temporality” for the Actionist Filmmaker. When viewed, the screen is split into three sections. The video taken by the spare person plays to the left while the video taken from the cameras on EXPORT’s front and back play on top of one another.


A: How is EXPORT’s work as an Actionist Filmmaker polar opposite than that of Structuralism such as work by Michael Snow?

B: How does EXPORT’s work relate to the approaches of Viennese Actionists?

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