Tonight I was one of 100 attendees at artist and Central St Martins student Clayton Petett’s hugely anticipated debut exhibition ‘Art School Stole My Virginity’. I like Clayton, he’s a smart man/boy/manboy – but what the world expected to take place…didn’t. I’m not sure when the plan changed exactly, and I am by no means stating that the experience of the exhibition was a bad thing, but the misrespresentation and false advertising (first hand from Clayton himself) is definitely something that should be discussed first. This is an excerpt from an interview with Clayton from VICE in October:
Who are you losing it to?
I can’t disclose information on my partner at this minute. He’s at my art school, though, and someone I am physically and emotionally attracted to.
That’s nice. So how’s it going to happen?
I can tell you I will be having sex in front of an audience in a large space. It will be aesthetically pleasing and not presented like a peep show or something dark and seedy. But other pieces will be created from the one perforrmance. My partner and I will both have a light smattering of paint on our bodies while we’re having sex on an unstretched piece of canvas to create a permanent piece of the performance. That will be hung up straight after the performance is done.
None of the above took place. So at some point between October and April – a good seven months, something changed. It was clear that what 100 people experienced tonight was never the original intention, and that probably should have been communicated to the press of the world that hyped this up to be one of the most “controversial” exhibitions of the decade. I don’t suppose we will ever know what happened, but this is how it went down tonight…
We entered the industrial open space of Theatre Delicatessen on Marylebone High Street, mobile phones confiscated and seated in a space with no formal stage, just an extension of the floor with a steel bowl and raw broom head. After about fifteen minutes of the audience discussing and speculating, silence fell upon the room, a near nude Clayton enters, dressed in just black boxer briefs with smears of paint on his body spelling out words such as VIRGIN, BUTT and the lettering of NSFW. He is followed on by four similarly clad but fully veiled in white support artists. Clayton takes to the floor, and begins scrubbing the words off of his skin with the broom and pink liquid contents of the steel bowls leaving his skin appearing raw and scratched. The soundtrack being French 60s female alt-folk and the words of middle America’s broadcast media mocking the exhibition upon its announcement, and the video playing in the background of Clayton peeling, licking and eating an entire table loaded high with bananas. He stops at a point where his flesh is on the verge of bleeding, words still smudged across his chest, and leaves the stage. Members of the audience are subsequently escorted in groups to a small baby blue/lilac room on the lower ground floor – the walls of which are covered in the words of the world’s media written in a felt pen. Individually, we are picked out one by one from the room to experience Clayton seated cross legged in a hut surrounded by rip yellow bananas, we are asked to enter and sit with him. He asks, eye contact locked to me “I want you to penetrate my mouth six times with this banana.” The penetration takes place, and Clayton politely asks you to leave. His manner was almost aggressive ironically leaving me with a bitter taste in my mouth.
We were each then escorted to an exhibition space adjacent to the room which featured Clayton’s “Virginity” inspired artwork including semen covered cracked mirrors glued to a pink backdrop and various almost Dali-on-acid-esque paintings bursting with raw pink energy almost screaming at you.
Had this been a completely solo experience with no speculation or hype, or contact with other audience members it would have been a more enigmatic experience. Whether the conversational, in situ speculation aspect was intentional or not, it cheapened the experience – but that could be said about any exhibition. I loathe experiencing art in a gallery surrounded by strangers. The intimacy of this piece could have been heightened with that regard. Then again, everyone thought they were going to experience something completely different from what was advertised.
Which brings me to my final point. Intent. There was no actual sexual/anal penetration, nothing discussed in the original blog post from Clayton, the article on Dazed or the interview with VICE actually happened. So was tonight not really the exhibition? And in that case what was? It was me, you and everyone who believed that this was going to take place.
‘Art School Stole My Virginity’ was the finest showcase of media and PR hype as art, a comment on modern day humanity. From one mere tumblr post and image, Clayton created a global hysteria and panic that he then showcased tonight at the launch. It was a ploy which is in essence a huge commentary on society on their obsession with sex and virginity. It was an exhibition within an exhibition, played out within the exhibition. It would have been so anticlimactic had Clayton just been fucked on stage, the void of this was so much more. It was the biggest “fuck you” and rebellion against the world’s expectations played out artistically and maturely.
The performance was the press. The fact that a mere tumblr post from an unknown could generate this much legal controversy and global conversation in 2014 is a work of art within itself.
You have literally one day to enjoy the public exhibition (banana penetration not included) of the artworks within the art of ‘Art School Stole My Virginity’ at Theatre Delicatessen, 35 Marylebone High Street in London, from 10am-10pm tomorrow (only).