Valie Export’s photograph Action Pants: Genital Panic shows her sitting with genitals exposed while pointing a gun at the viewer. Export’s work draws attention to the ideas of phallic power and whether it truly comes from biology or can be attained otherwise. Export showcases her lack of penis by exposing her own vagina but reclaims the gun as her phallic object and power. It was rumoured that this photograph came after a live performance, where Export walked around people seated in a theatre, her vagina at their eye-level, and pointed a gun at them while offering sex until the theatre was empty. This imagery reminds me of the film Magic, Magic where, post-hypnotism, the female protagonist walks into the room of a man who has been sexually harassing her (verbally) and rubs her naked vagina in his face, all while being asleep. The woman has no recollection of events the next day and appears mortified when the man confronts her about it. This scene acts to remind us that such overt sexuality is not ‘acceptable’ in a woman with both male anger and female humiliation driving this. Export’s photograph works in the opposite way, purposefully pairing femininity with macho aggression (common in a lot of her work) to blur set gender boundaries.
Performance artist and photographer, Claire Doyle, recently paid homage to Export’s work in her performance piece Habitual Body Monitoring: The Costume. Doyle draws attention to female body hair through her performance which you can watch above. The acceptance and freedom of female body hair has been gaining support in recent years with other artists like Petra Collins and Rhiannon Scnhiederman springing to mind.