During the frenzied days of the Frieze Art Fair in London, in early October, I planned a visit to the recently renovated Camden Art Center, to see VALIE EXPORT, a traveling survey exhibition. The Camden Art Center was extremely hospitable and helpful to set up an interview with VALIE, and offered information and access to the exhibition curated by Caroline Bourgeois.

K: Who are your role models?

V: In the 60s, I first discovered the American scene...
John Cage, Carolee Schneeman, Trisha Brown, and others. I was very happy
to find out about this kind of work, and that it was happening. I read
about it in magazines, not books – and I didn’t find them
in Vienna, rather in London or Sweden. Later, I studied Carolee Schneeman,
and I visited her in London in the 70’s. Then, I started to do this
kind of [radical] work, myself.

K: What about Viennese Actionsim?

V: In the 60’s, I knew them, but didn’t work
with them. I was not coming out of painting --- I was looking at what
cinema was, and what was the meaning of having a camera. There was no
political feminist movement in Austria. Information was limited. I was
more like an actionist, looking for non-aesthetic ways to make art. In
Germany, London and Holland, feminism was part of student movement (a
term that came from the states) but not in Austria.

K: Over the past 30 years, the role of women has changed. What is the
attitude about feminism now, among your current students?

V: Since awhile, now, I see it with my students that
their interest for feminism is higher than it was 10 years ago. A lot
of students in the 90’s missed political things, and they are now
looking to have a political behavior/consciousness and to find out what
does it mean to live in that time when everything changed. They don’t
know what is happening next…should they be ‘real artists’,
should they try to sell, should they experiment (and never earn money).
They also find that they have to think about the political situation,
and for sure women’s status is included.

K – If younger artists have re-embraced feminism, does media (technic)
play a role in their work?

: The media/technic possibilities – what I call hybrid
work – does play a role. But, when the computer, digital photography
and video are used, it brings a different canon to the work than when
before any technical possibility existed and the artist normally used
only one medium. Along with the consideration of technic, society also
begets politics, which must be taken into consideration. But, I don’t
believe that Art can directly change political situations, it can not
stop people from going to war – that is another point. Art and culture,
however, can sensitize people to the kind of behavior that creates war
– that is culture…and art practice that incorporates these
considerations helps to create cultural sensibility. In this way, the
function of political, social and cultural content can be incorporated
by Art.
K: Do you feel like your personal work is moving in this direction too?
You have moved through issues of identity, the environment, and etc. already….

: Yes, I do, myself – but I think I always did that.

K: What you working on now?

I work on a piece (working title: The Gaze of a Gaze) that
is comprised of a telescope – where you see thru its lens (whatever
can see) but also you see your own eye – the whole inside lens of
your eye (eyeapple) superimposed…and the movement of your observation.
You can raise out parts of your ‘eyeapple’ which can be changed
by your movement. Behind the image of the eyeapple is text, so there will
be layers from a data screen, layers showing the universe, yourself and
In this work, you will observe your gaze and at the same time destroy
your gaze, it is self-reflexive. If you don’t want to change your
gaze, then you won’t move. If you want to change your point of view,
then you must change your own gaze. You will be required to make a choice…a

K: You must be working with a team of developers?

V: Yes, I am working with a computer programmer –
I don’t do that kind of work, it’s impossible for me. This
new work has been in the works for some time, but in two years maybe it
will be ready.

K: You talked a little bit about your students….what kind
of work are they doing?

V: A lot of them use programming…some of the ideas
are simple…One for example is of faces – digital with computer
information…The digital data gives information to the face, but
the face also gives information. The two faces come toghether and it looks
simple, but a lot of programming, and learning, goes together to put it
altogether. This is interesting to me, because the next step is to ask
for more / other information, not just the color of the skin, but something
more. It continues development and will build up. There is a kind of vision
in this work.
K: Do you communicate with email or lists?

V: No.

K: It can be a wonderful apparatus to connect women, to find community.
A lot of women want to connect. They post information and receive responses.

V: It sounds like in the 50’s and 60’ with
street performances and mail art.—this gives me the feeling of the
Situationists, like there is a continuation of the Avant- Garde, a very
spontaneous versions of getting people together. If women (or anyone)
achieve this by email – fine. I don’t do it.

K: Can you site any support systems that helped you during your
career? People or institutions?

V: No. This was not the situation in the 60’s and
70’s….institutional support was not forthcoming to me. The
Austrian society was against me. I did everything alone. I had to fight
them, they were really against me.

K: But now you are one of their treasures!

V: Yes, it’s always the way, huh? Things have changed;
yes…today it is different for me. Now it’s OK, young people
are always coming around me, especially at the openings of my exhibition;
I always have a big crowd around me.

K: Do you have any advise for young women?

V: For young artists…I say “think what you
can do – not, do what you can think…”
Think, how far can I go. Sometimes, one must jump over a border –
and then, there will always be another border.

K: I realize you are talking about artistic borders, but can you
also comment on the position of artists crossing real borders, between
the East and the West (you are well placed to have observed this in Austria).

V: I was in the east countries in the 80’s,with Silvia Eiblymyer.
We went to see the artists there. Now, a few of my students are from east
Europe, as well as Asia, etc.

K: Do they have a different perspective?

V: Yes.

K: Does it change them to be in Germany?

V: No, I don’t think so. They have their own perspective, but sometimes
they mix things up…it is at times and in some ways dangerous. It
is a lot about language, i.e.: if a Chinese student uses certain images
and words, they need to understand the meaning in the context. Suddenly
for them, making work inside western culture work doesn’t make sense,
but they only need to think about where they are - it can be a good and
interesting cultural crossover.

K: Watching your films now…..

V: I don’t watch them, I know them. Yes, I’ll
talk about the films tonight, but it is not a talk by myself alone…to
introduce them, that is not so easy for me.

K: To show your work here in London, has it been good?

V: Yes, it is fine here! The show has traveled...Paris,
Seville, Geneve, London, then to next year to Vienna.

K: How are your relationships with curators?

V: It depends? It is sometimes a good collaboration,
sometimes it is not…so good. Especially if they want to push me
in a certain direction, i.e.: they know what they want, etc. I also know
what I want.
For feminism, there is also a special generation of curators …younger
curators, and after middle age curators, still ask what does it mean to
be a female artist, what does it mean to have feminism in society? One
can see it in the programming and the exhibitions that are being shown.
Further Links to VALIE EXPORT:
(auf Deutsch)
(in French)

ArtForum review, June, 2003 by Brigitte Huck
Thanks to Eva Ursprung for technical support during the interview.