Virginity generally tends to be a big deal for most people. Presumably because society dictates that, pre-sex, you are a hairless fawn crawling your way through the embarrassing undergrowth of training bras and stealth wanking, and post-sex you’re fully grown with a comprehensive understanding of D’Angelo’s discography and the right to drink triple sec next to swimming pools. But then society is notoriously mean and ill informed and probably doesn’t even know what it’s talking about.
In a bid to understand where the obsession and scrutiny of virginity comes from, my friend Clayton Pettet has decided to lose his flower in front of a crowd next year as part of his St Martins art project, titled “Art School Took My Virginity“. He told me that some tabloid journalists had been sniffing around the story, so I thought I’d give him a call before they got their noses in the trough.
The flyer for Clayton’s project.
TOA: Hey man. So, I hear you’re being hounded by the press?
Clayton Pettet: Yeah, I just spoke to this journalist and it was so weird – it feels like the national papers that are asking about the project want to get the best angle and rip it apart. It’s crazy. It’s not something I’m used to, watching everything I say with caution.
But you must have expected something like this would happen, right?
I don’t really mind what they say about me, as long as it’s their words. I don’t want them to twist mine. But it brings discussion, and whether it’s making people angry, excited or confused, it’s bringing forth emotion about art. Which is something we’ve lost.
People say that everything has been done already, but I don’t think that’s true. If you think hard enough, there’s shit that only you could think of – something so buried inside of you that, if you let yourself, you’d be able to just to throw up onto a canvas and let your mind do the rest.
Fair enough. When did you first get the idea?
Since I was about 16 years old, the whole idea of virginity has been overwhelming to me. I started to think about why it meant so much, and was [the meaning] actually real. So, from then until I started art school, I was constantly thinking, ‘What If I desensitised the whole concept of virginity by losing mine as a performance art piece?’ Because that’s what virginity is to me – a performance that has been used to value women, a heteronormative term that is constantly used to work out someone’s worth. My piece is also like one big study and investigation; has anything changed after penetration? Does it all actually matter?
For me, losing my virginity was vital. Do you think it’s more hyped up from a male perspective?
Yes, definitely. It’s just a hyped up thing in general. It’s used more as an insult to still have your virginity now, but it’s always been a negative thing and always meant so much more than it should. I feel if I was a girl losing my virginity for this piece, people would be way more angry. Which is exactly my point. Virginity is used to dictate your worth depending on which gender you are.
So you’re saying sex isn’t important?
Sex is important, and as a first experience it will always be remembered. But it shouldn’t be remembered as the loss of virginity. But maybe I’m completely wrong, which is why I’m doing a piece. It’s about self-discovery more than anything.
How come you haven’t lost it already?
I don’t know… I think it took a lot of time to discover what I was actually into, sexually. I was so obsessed with losing it that I never got around to actually meeting someone to do it with.
Well, there were times when I could have had sex. But it always felt like something was there stopping me. But I’ve realised this is how I want to do it. I want to lose it for art and I want to lose it for change.
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.
Can I come and watch?
Sure! Anyone who wants to see it, there’s a bit on the blog where people can register for tickets. Because of interest I can’t allow everyone to come. I don’t mind who you are, I just want you to feel something, you know. I want emotion from my audience, I want a new collective. I’m not just doing this piece for me, I want loads of other new artists to come forward and present their ideas – ideas that haven’t been accepted before. I want a collective. I feel my piece could do this. Bring an audience of artists together to create work for the future.
What do you say to people who are calling the perfomance a gimmick?
Well, that’s fine – beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I would still do this piece even if I had one member in the audience and was doing it in a crack den.
You’d want to lose your virginity in a crack den?
No, not really.
Well, either way, it’ll make a great story.
It’s one for the grandkids, I think. I want it to be something to be remembered, though, like any artist. That’s the point of making it – art – for people to look at. I would be lying if I didn’t like people wanting to know more about it. Giving it their full attention. All artists want their work to be talked about, looked at, investigated.
If this had never happened, how would you have liked to lose your virginity?
In a room where I may or may not get caught with someone I am deeply attracted too, but not in love with.
Follow me on twitter: @rodrigocanete