Valie Export was born and raised in Austria in 1940. Up to the age of 14, her schooling occurred in a convent. During that time, she had a very religious outlook on life and was very obsessed with God and religion. Her religious views changed rapidly though when she left the convent. In 1960 she went to art school in Vienna. There she studied design, painting, and drawing. After a short time in art school, she met her husband, got married, had two children, and then got divorced. After her divorce she returned to art school to further pursue art.
In the early 1960's Export was exposed to a group of Viennese Aktionists and poets that would influence her work and theories. Through these groups she got interested in Constructivism, which inspired her to work in new media. She started to experiment with photography and what she called "expanded cinema". She would experiment by pouring different colored waters and liquids into a mirror and project them onto a screen. To Export, these live projections were reality, as opposed to celluloid images mediated by the camera. She began to label much of her work Anti-Art or No-Art. Her art became a political tool to react against society or the "Establishment".
Her expanded cinema pieces started to include live performance form Export herself. The body then became her most important tool. Export used her body to question people's physical and mental identity. One of her important goals in performance was to separate the female body from eroticism. Export said "I felt it was important to use the female body to create art. I knew that if I did it naked, I would really change how the (mostly male) audience would look at me. There would be no pornographic or erotic/ sexual desire involved--so there would be a contradiction." (Juna & Vale, 1985).
Her views on the female body carried on to other works such as her performance at an art street fair in 1968. She performed "Touch Cinema" which involved strapping on a box which enclosed her naked breasts. The box had holes in the front so that spectators could stick their hands through. She told the spectators "This box is the cinema hall. My body is the screen. But this cinema is not for looking--it is for touching." (Juna & Vale, 1985). Again, Export tried to create a contradiction, by taking a very erotic part of the body and offering it the way she wanted to people. The box and her blatant offering defused the situation from any eroticism.
Export then began to refer to her work as Media Aktionism. She wanted to use her body in a feminist and semiotic way. During one performance called "Erosion", Export rolled her naked body over broken glass. By doing so, she wanted to put a new code on the naked body. Export tried to change the male gaze by showing the male her body the way she wanted to, as opposed to what they were used to.
"In 1973, Export did a performance called "Kausalgie" where the silhouette of a man is burned into a large wax plate with a gas flame. Export lies naked in the outline of this silhouette, her body warmth slowly changing the wax bed and her body image forming in the cooling wax. Slowly she separates herself from its rigidity and moves toward the edge, which is however lined with barbed wire, whereby the wax vaporizes. She separates herself from the waxen model and thus symbolically from the conceptual rigidity of man. The remaining traces are filled with molten lead , which slowly cools. A likeness remains, the traces are covered up." (Newsweda, 1991). By performing Kausalgie, Export wanted to free the spirit and liberate her body from the concepts of society. By subjecting her body to the painful branding process, there was a liberation from social branding because she was in control of her image.
From then on, Export continued to perform and go on to other media. She had produced other Body Art, photographs, screenplays, five films (see Work), installations, and important theoretical and historical writings such as "The Real and Its Double: The Body" and her manifesto "Aspects of Feminist Actionism". For the past 30 years, Export has been living alone and dividing her time between Vienna and Milwaukee, where she teaches film at the University of Wisconsin.