Performance art takes every century’s current issue and turn it into art and someone losing his virginity on stage is the new “black”.
Penny Paschali reports.
Performance art in the 70’s was about body art, in the 80s about the recession and in the 90s came out of gay clubs dealing with issues of philosophical importance, but is it too “naughty” in the noughties?
Now performance art makes us wonder, is having sex in public and a young man losing his virginity what our society needs? Clayton Pettet, a 19 year old, from London, is going to have gay sex in front of one hundred people audience, as part of his performance called “Art School stole my virginity.”
People who want to watch the performance can sign up on his website and after a research he is going to do himself, he is going to choose one hundred out of them to watch it, whom he thinks are “appropriate” or ready to watch it. After the performance, Clayton will give the audience the chance to offer him feedback.
Going back to the 60’s, the Viennese actionists used their bodies as surface for the production of art. One of them, Günter Brus publicly urinated, defecated and cut himself with a razor blade. In the 70s, Chris Burden, was shot in the arm by his assistant with a .22 rifle for his performance “Shoot”. Or for example in the 80s when Annie Sprinkles, former porn star, used a flashlight and speculum and let the audience to examine her vagina.
Even though Günter Brus’ performance led to his arrest and six months in prison, he made his point. His and the rest of the group’s goal was to smash all of society’s rules and taboos. Even Chris Burden can be judged for putting his and the audience’s lives in danger by asking his assistant to shoot him in front of them. Burden related his performance to the Vietnam war: the audience watched a man being shot and yet done nothing, leaving everyone wondering “Why didn’t I do something about that?”. Annie’s performance even now seems controversial and illustrates something that most of us can’t openly talk about. However, her performance was political and feminist at the time, seeking to eliminate taboos about women’s body.
Quite a few art performances can be called “controversial”, but controversy is an integral part of performance art. Without controversy many performances would have never received any attention or reaction from the audience. Therefore performance art would never fulfill its aim: to interact with the audience and trigger debates about current issues. The same applies to Clayton Pettet.
His performance has to do with the value of the word “virginity” that keeps changing over the years and how this word can stigmatise someone. As the artist said during an interview: “People form a negative connotation of what it means to be a virgin at my age: ‘Oh, you’re 19 why haven’t you lost your virginity?’ Back then you were valued more if you were a virgin, especially if you were a girl.”
His intentions are not necessarily as bad as many might think: If his main subject as an artist is heterosexual and homosexual norms and especially now virginity, the most effective way of showing it is by doing it himself. Also the fact that he is losing his virginity – cannot be that bad itself or be accused that he will be having cheapened sex on stage. Cheap sex is much closer to the public than this art performance. Porn is available to anyone who has a laptop and Internet connection. The main difference is the aim: performance art leads to a discussion or a debate about an issue and yet many can argue the importance of porn.
Pettet is wearing a quite an arrogant persona by “Investigating” to select his audience or presenting himself as a pioneer by claiming that he is going to perform in the most “ innovative and intimate ways possible, or that his piece might “inject some speed into the arts” as he said on his blog. His statements might slightly cheapen his intentions but not his necessarily his performance.
Talking to Ashleigh Griffith, a performance artist herself, said “I think it’s interesting that as recently as this Tuesday Grayson Perry explained at the Reith Lectures that art can’t shock us anymore, yet Clayton Pettet’s piece is attracting as much attention as it is! I have to say, as an artist, I don’t find this act particularly shocking.”
Some decades ago, hearing that someone had been shot in the name of art or that the audience had to speculate a porn start’s vagina would make no sense. Yes, the noughties could be the naughtiest we have faced so far, but we have gone past every decade’s extremeness probably because nobody was sitting behind a laptop reading twitter feeds about live sex on stage or publicly reading about S & M sex on the tube way home.