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Losing Your Virginity in an Art Gallery and Why We Need a Moratorium on Stupid Performance Art

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We get it, you're challenging the status quo. But you're boring.

British artist Clayton Pettet put on a show at a London gallery last week called "Art School Stole My Virginity." Pettet is a 19-year-old student at Central St. Martin's College, the prestigious art school where the spoiled rich girl from Pulp's "Common People" studied sculpture. He had promoted the show by announcing that he would lose his anal virginity in the gallery in front of audience members. The Kernel's Rob Price attended the performance, and his report is disturbing; not because he saw Pettet get painfully fucked in front of strangers, but because he didn't. Pettet under-delivered on his less-than-exceptional promise, and this precise half-baked lack of creativity is the problem with stunt-based performance art. 

Price recounts watching Pettet get body-painted by semi-naked attendants, and then watching a video of Pettet deep-throating bananas. Price was then selected to participate in stage two of the performance, where he was led into a holding room with explicit words scribbled on the wall, and then into a room alone with Pettet and hundreds of bananas, where Pettet asked him to penetrate his mouth six times with one of the bananas (apparently Pettet repeated this routine with all the attendees). Price and the rest of the audience were then led out into a final room where Pettet's paintings were displayed. The show was over. No sodomy was performed.  

There's nothing provocative about sucking on bananas and scrawling dirty words on the wall. It lacks conceptual foundation and demonstrates no vulnerability, the two things that skilled performance art requires. Art does not always require technical skill, but it does require thoughtfulness and intent. By promising the public the chance to witness an extraordinarily intimate moment, and then instead offering a double entendre, and an obvious one at that, Pettet hides himself in plain sight. He chickened out.

And, as Price rightly notes, his performance is an unoriginal idea. Marina Abramovic's 1974 piece Rhythm 0 gave audience members various items and allowed them to do whatever they wanted to her body, culminating in a loaded gun getting pointed at her head. Talk about vulnerable. Pettet, Price drolly remarks, "sucked some bananas." On top of that, confirmed plagiarist Shia LaBeouf did the one-on-one interactive tiny-room performance just a few months ago.

Pettet also works with semen as a material, which is the most played-out shock tactic in all of art, except for maybe menstrual blood. This Wikipedia list of art that uses bodily fluid is even incomplete, as there are artists on this list who aren't included. 

So my challenge to performance artists is this: can you make art that shocks and challenges the audience without any bodily fluids or threats of exhibitionism? Can you think of something that Marina Abramovic didn't already think of? Can you stop generally being so dull, for the rest of us? Until you can answer "yes" to those questions, stay home and lose your virginity behind closed doors like all the other non-artists have been doing for centuries.

Image via Fossilmike