Valie Export review
Time Out says
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There’s one colour that matters in Valie Export’s art: red. It’s the red of menstruation, childbirth and the fluid of Christ sipped at Eucharist. But it’s not a rich, winey shade. It’s at the orange end of the scale, like a thin trail of blood through bathwater.
In 1980, Export’s gesamtkunstwerk appeared at the Venice Biennale, a ‘total artwork’ made of a wooden and steel sculpture and 17 large photographs mainly showing the artist draped, crouching or lying across parts of outdoor Vienna. And now it’s in this gallery in London, all of it together.
The central sculpture, ‘Geburtenbett’ (‘Birth Bed’), is a giant wooden block the same shape as the cartoon cheese a cartoon mouse would eat. Out of it juts a board, with an old-fashioned television monitor repeatedly showing the transubstantiation part of the Catholic Mass, and two bent white legs spread open. From between the legs run fluorescent tubes in that same light, bright red.
Revisited years later, feminist art often feels dated. Indeed, it’s sometimes old hat pretty much straight away, let alone at 40 years old like Export’s is now. But nothing in this exhibition has that sense to it.
Partly that’s because the points she makes still resonate. Export understands architecture as intrinsically linked to female bodies, so when she flops over it in photos, her physique becomes an extension of the objects.
But she’s also riffing on how the Austrian urban landscape (like most others) was constructed to the measurements of a citizen assumed to be a man. Meaning: the world literally isn’t built to fit women – a fact that wouldn’t be out of place in Caroline Criado Perez’s book ‘Invisible Women’, published in… (wait for it)... 2019.
Above all though, Export’s work is still affecting because it’s personal, and humans never date as badly as political movements do. It doesn’t get weighed down being a self-conscious commentary, instead it’s just a visual expression of what it’s like to be Valie Export. And that keeps it feeling like a just-opened cut, not an old congealed scab.