Body Sign Action B, 1970

B&w photograph

105 x 70.2 cm unframed; 123.3 x 87.6 x 3 cm framed

Fundación ARCO Collection

On 2 July 1970, on a public stage in Frankfurt the artist VALIE EXPORT tattooed herself with a garter, a radical transgression of gender stereotypes—given that at the time tattoos were seen as the exclusive purview of men, especially convicts and sailors—but also a case of taking the use of her own body to the extreme, as the artistic action that became a permanent part of her body that would last her whole life long. The garter is a fetishistic garment of male sexual fantasies and an index of how the male gaze transforms a woman’s body into a sexual object destined for its pleasure. By tattooing herself and displaying it defiantly, she constructed femininity as a space of self-determination: to be a woman as a political construct and not as a given object, in other words, the basic demand of feminism.

VALIE EXPORT is one of the key artists of the second half of the twentieth century and one of the most brilliant exponents of the first wave of feminism that followed the emergence of conceptual art in the late-sixties. In 1968, at the age of twenty-eight, she adopted the name Valie as first name and EXPORT as surname taken from a famous cigarette brand of the time. This anti-patriarchal gesture refuted the obligation to carry the surname of her father, Waltraud Lehner, from birth and then after marrying, that of her husband Waltraud Höllinger. VALIE EXPORT operates as a concept and as a logo.

The point of departure for her practice was Viennese Actionism, then practised largely by men, and the backdrop of the social uprising of the late-sixties. In 1967 Che Guevara was condemned to death, 1968 was the year of the student revolts in May in Paris and also the beginning of Afro-American activism in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. This is the context in which VALIE EXPORT produced a series of guerrilla performances in public spaces in various cities, to which this body action belongs.