Valie Export, “Tap and Touch Cinema,” 1968-1971


Valie Export’s “Tap and Touch Cinema” (1968-71) was a work of interactive art with feminist aims. Presenting the work to the public, Export invited men, women, and children to feel her breasts through a curtained box that resembled a cinema or theater. “Tap and Touch Cinema” reminds us of our own inappropriateness in the way that Kathleen Higgins alludes to in her description of Nicolas Roeg’s “Bad Timing.” In “Whatever Happened to Beauty: A Response to Danto,” Higgins writes that the juxtaposition and violent maneuvering between love-making to an emergency room scene draws the viewer out of a state of pleasurable voyeurism into one of “distressing self-awareness” (283). Export’s work similarly transfigures the pleasurable voyeurism we experience from viewing the naked female figure on television, into one of uncomfortable self-awareness when we are allowed to transcend the one-way gaze into the television screen into a two-way encounter in which the male gaze is confronted. Similarly, the male must come to terms with his own actions, of his own accord, as he goes beyond the realm of harmless, pleasurable viewing, into a moment of crisis in which one most reconcile the decision to cross and meaning of crossing into the forbidden and violent realm that characterizes touching as altercation.

Higgins writes: “We realize after one of thees jolting juxtapositions that we have allowed ourselves to wallow in fantasy aroused by beautiful images of the very character who (in the film) we know to be presently suffering. The beauty is inappropriate, but it reminds us of our own inappropriateness. Thus, while the beauty is inappropriate, the film is not” (283). In an interactive encounter with “Tap and Touch Cinema,” the viewer must acknowledge that they are indulging in an act that is mired in the objectification and oppression of women. While Export’s work invites a scenario that is “inappropriate,” the work itself is appropriate for by translating our hidden thoughts into visible action, it challenges us to come to terms with our character and the limits we are willing to go to in realizing our private selves in public.

Source: Kathleen Higgins, “Whatever Happened to Beauty? A Response to Danto,” 1996.





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