Milo Moiré masturbates in public: a remake of Tapp-und Tastkino by Valie Export

Milo Moiré's recent performance 'Mirror Box' is an homage to 'Tapp-und Tastkino' by Valie Export. A little analysis on this.

A couple of weeks ago, news of Milo Moiré’s arrest caused quite a stir when she was stopped by London police during her Mirror Box performance, which she was holding in Trafalgar Square, and then taken to a cell, where she was subjected to a twenty-four-hour detention. The Swiss performer was then found guilty of the crime of outraging public decency (“outraging public decency”), as we learn from the Mirror website, and was fined £750, plus incidental costs.

Milo Moiré’s performance is actually nothing new, as it is simply a remake, borrowing a term from the language of cinema, of another performance, dated 1968, created by Austrian artist Valie Export and titled Tapp-und Tastkino (but also known by its English name Tap and Touch Cinema, or “Cinema skims and touches”). Milo Moiré explicitly stated that he wanted to pay homage to Valie Export, although many people missed it. In fact, the mechanism of Mirror Box and Tapp-und Tastkino is identical, except for a couple of variations introduced by Milo Moiré: the performer wears a box at breast height, with a kind of entrance at the front, and the audience is invited, by a man illustrating the performance over a megaphone (in the case of Valie Export this was artist and curator Peter Weibel), to insert their hands inside the box to touch the artist’s breasts. Milo Moiré, unlike Valie Export, covered the box with mirrors and also wore it at the height of the pelvis, with the hole placed at the genitals, leaving the audience free to masturbate it as well. In order to understand Milo Moiré’s action, however, it is necessary to go back to that of Valie Export, who was born in the context ofViennese Actionism, an artistic movement in which the body was considered the expressive medium that the artist used to spread a strongly nonconformist message through provocative actions, transgressive to the point of excess, that targeted, often in a very violent and destructive way, topics that were considered untouchable (such as religion) or unseemly (sexuality). Valie Export takes up, from Viennese Actionism, the concept of the body as a medium for creating the work of art, but subverting one of the founding principles of Actionism: if for artists such as Nitsch and Mühl the woman’s body is a kind of object (Nitsch declares that in his performances “the human being is not seen as a human being, as a person, but as a body that has certain properties.” the performance Degradation of a female body, during which the model’s body was covered with paint and waste, is a clear example of this logic), for Valie Export the body, although it remains dissociated from the personality, becomes a code, the theater through which the woman asserts her identity.

Milo Moiré, Mirror Box e Valie Export, Tapp-und Tastkino
Left: Milo Moiré, Mirror Box (2016). Right: Valie Export, Tapp-und Tastkino (1968)

The concept of the body as a “sign and code for social and aesthetic expression” (according to an expression used by Valie Export herself) began to be elaborated precisely with Tapp-und Tastkino’s “expanded cinema.” The film that the artist staged was something more than a film (and at the same time also something less, because it prescinded from the use ... of the film itself): the audience was called upon to participate in the first person, the images that viewers were accustomed to seeing on the screen became real and offered possibilities for interaction that had never been experienced. In this case, the possibility offered to the audience was to sample a piece of real sexuality, and this was in protest against the stereotypical images of women that were being put forward by “mainstream” cinema. The plot of the film thus developed on Valie Export’s breasts, and the audience was called upon to play her, to become actors, to decide what should happen on the “set.” Interesting is the short-circuit that the performance managed to trigger: the role of the image and the spectator were in fact literally turned upside down. If, in the cinemas, the spectator enjoyed bodies projected on a screen (and therefore not real) and, at the same time, watched the show in the anonymity that was guaranteed to him by the darkness of the hall, with Valie Export’s performance the object became real and the spectator emerged from anonymity, as he was spurred to enjoy reality in front of everyone, in a public space.

For Valie Export, this was the first “shift from the object toward the subject,” in the sense that, in her view, Tapp-und Tastkino offered the artist the opportunity to “move from pure matter toward essence,” because the performance became a symbol of the liberation of women, who became able to “freely dispose of their breasts, without having to follow the rules imposed by society,” thus affirming the full autonomy of their sexuality. It was, in essence, a matter of uniting the demands of feminism, of which the artist was a proud supporter (it is worth remembering that in reality Valie Export’s name was Waltraud Lehner, and as a married woman Waltraud Höllinger, and she took on the stage name in protest against the custom of giving women their father’s or husband’s last name) with those of Actionism, so much so that not a few critics speak of"feminist Actionism.“ The intentions of Milo Moiré’s remake are virtually the same. During the performance she herself, on the megaphone, called out to the audience using this phrase: ”I am here today for women’s rights and for the self-determination of their sexuality. Women have a sexuality, just like men. So, women decide for themselves when and how they want to be touched, and when they don’t."

In short: nothing new. Nor do Milo Moiré’s two modifications add anything to the performance. The shift from breasts to genitals does not change the meaning of the performance, and the idea of adding mirrors to the box, designed for the purpose of confronting the viewer with her reaction to the performer is probably ineffective since the natural reaction certainly becomes changed by the context: and triggering this change was already one of Tapp-und Tastkino’s goals. As Bernadette Wegenstein of John Hopkins University in Baltimore has written, “in this performance the spectators become gropers, the anonymity guaranteed by the movie theater ceases in the face of the theatrical act of being seen in public touching Valie Export’s breasts.” So we could spend hours debating the meaning of Milo Moiré’s remake, wondering moreover whether or not we can really talk about art (we had already done so a couple of years ago after his foray into Art Basel). The fact that media accustomed to not passing on art news continue to talk about it, however, gives us an initial feedback: this is a performer who certainly, with her provocations, succeeds in spite of everything.

Reference bibliography

  • Randall Halle, Reinhild Steingröver (eds.), After the Avant-garde: Contemporary German and Austrian Experimental, Camden House, 2008
  • Chrissie Iles, Kristine Stiles, Gary Indiana, Robert Fleck, Valie Export: ob/de+con(struction), Goldie Paley Gallery, 2000
  • Malcolm Green, Brus, Muehl, Nitsch, Schwarzkogler: Writings of the Vienna Actionists, Atlas Press, 1999
  • Johannes Willem Bertens, Hans Bertens, Douwe Fokkema, International Postmodernism: Theory and Literary Practice, John Benjamins Publishing, 1997
  • Roswitha Mueller, Valie Export: Fragments of the Imagination, Indiana University Press, 1994

PS: As I am about to finish the article, I notice that an article came out a few days ago in Artspecialday discussing essentially the same topics touched on in the piece you just read. At the end, the author of the article (Fiammetta Pisani) wonders what feedback the performance might have, branding it, however, of lack of coherence due to the fact that the artist has put the uncensored version of the footage of what was happening inside his Mirror box for sale online. Granted that I do not think that a performer’s venality is a sufficient condition (nor, much less, the main one) for deciding whether or not to include his or her endeavors in the categories of art, unlike others I find that Milo Moiré’s experiments can nonetheless be viewed with some interest. In this case, if nothing else, it helped us to brush up on contemporary art history.... !

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.