Peeledbanana

What Fucking Clayton Pettet Teaches Us About Cultural Rhetorics

Becca Hayes, University of Missouri-Columbia
Kathleen Livingston, Michigan State University
Casey Miles, Michigan State University
Jon M. Wargo, Boston College
Ames Hawkins, Columbia College Chicago
Ezekiel Choffel, Syracuse University
Steven Hammer, Saint Joseph’s University
Erin Schaefer, Michigan State University
Les Hutchinson, Michigan State University

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“Art must have many layers. Art is not just about another beautiful painting that matches your dining room floor. Art has to be disturbing, art has to ask a question, art has to predict the future. It has to do all these kinds of things. An art concept has to have so many layers so that every part of society can take what it needs.” – Marina Abramovica (Adams)

 


A R T S C H O O L S T O L E M Y V I R G I N I T Y from Clayton Pettet on Vimeo.

Clayton Pettet’s series of provocations, “Art School Stole My Virginity,” first captured our attention in 2014. As a collective whose larger interest lies in charting queerness in cultural rhetorics, we (Casey, Becca, Jon, and Kathleen) were turned on by Pettet’s slow tease. Would he get fucked? Would he get off? Jon imagined Pettet on his back in a box; and that image became these fantasies, imagined for the 2014 Cultural Rhetorics Conference.

As the hype around the performance and the rhetoric of youth sexuality grew in intensity, our interests in Pettet’s performance art splintered across a myriad of themes. The result was this collection of theories, stories, and fantasies about vulnerability, risk, consent, hetero-economies of desire, temporality, intentionality, and spatial affect. As we, as a collective of authors, played with our ideas, our writing throughout the development of this piece, we became comfortable with dissonances in sexual desires. We listened to each others’ fantasies, considered them, held the idea of them in our bodies. Our responses were lyrical, analytical, and historical. The breaks in the narrative line of this story on sexuality happened spontaneously and include our insight on form, which we wrote together.

Feeling In The First Person

Pettet’s sole interview responding to his performance, for Dazed magazine, serves us with his narrative and rethinking of the previous night’s events. Dazed asks Pettet about the pièce de résistance, wherein he asked audience members to force-feed him bananas and spit expletives at him (Tsjeng “What actually happened”). In the following found poem, Jon reimagines Pettet’s experience, giving guidance to you, readers, on how to read our unusual review.

“Talking about performance is such a strange thing because it’s so immaterial. We are talking about soft matter. We are talking about something that is invisible. You can’t see it. You can’t touch it. You just can feel it. At the same time, performance has this amazing power of transformation which other mediums have too, but it’s much more difficult to get it. This is more direct. It’s so instant.” – Marina Abramovica[1] (Vollmer) 

Vignette I: Pettet “Feels Backwards” and Reflects

by Jon M. Wargo

“No, I’ve always said I don’t believe in virginity.

It was about me

Stealing the word

Virginity

Rather than having it stolen

From

Me.

I think if people were expecting something else

It shows what they really

Wanted.

They didn’t want an art piece.

They wanted to see me have

Sex.

If they came for the art they wouldn’t be disappointed –

They’d know there were things to read

Between

The lines for.”

A Queer Signpost: Notes on Form

Perhaps you have come upon this text as an onlooker, someone who wants to know about the phenomenon entitled “Art School Stole My Virginity.” Or, perhaps the word ‘fucking’ piqued your interest. This piece reads like Pettet’s performance: disjunctive, disjointed, dissonant. We see this piece operating as transgenre writing (see Hawkins, “Exhuming Transgenre Ties”; Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts; Powell, et al. “Our Story Begins Here: Constellating Cultural Rhetorics”) that seeks to provoke and initiate, more than to proclaim or nail down. Like Pettet, we want to design, not over-determine, your experience and reception.

In “Art School Stole My Virginity,” Pettet designs an experience, curating an exhibition of self which ultimately reflects the audience’s own imaginary of what performance art, virginity, and sex are. As a collaborative, we work through Pettet’s piece to draw connections between queer and cultural rhetorics that critically engage with “normative discourses of sexuality in the public sphere … expos[ing] their naturalization and torqu[ing] them to create different or counter discourses,” as Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes say queer rhetorics must do.

Inspired by Pettet’s close relationship with his audience, and Eli Clare’s plenary at the 2014 The Ohio State University Queer Places, Practices, and Lives II symposium, we were intentional to queer the conventions of the academic paper session at the Cultural Rhetorics Conference in 2014. During our session, we gave short responses to Pettet’s performance. Then, like Clare, we sought to incite a “community conversation,” wherein theory was inspired and created through dialogue.

The four of us (Becca, Kathleen, Casey, and Jon) moved into small groups with audience members to facilitate a conversation about what they’d just heard. Afterwards, seeking to create a larger queer provocation, we invited audience members to contribute their theories on Pettet’s performance art and our responses. To keep the community conversation alive, for the purpose of this collage essay, players are featured in order of appearance: Clayton Pettet, Kathleen Livingston, Ames Hawkins, Becca Hayes, Ezekiel Choffel, Casey Miles, Steven Hammer, Erin Schaefer, Jon M. Wargo, and Les Hutchinson.

We acknowledge the dissonance and disjointedness this project entails. Therefore, we provide no exhaustive remarks or conclusions, but rather a constellation of queer provocations. We work to render the “queer” intelligible by making the piece and our responses to it seemingly unintelligible to heteronormative cultural logics. Queer operates in this fashion as a signpost, a signal that traverses across, on, and through bodies. Along the way, we include disjunctures: signposts and spaces to give pause as you move across and between provocations. Reading this collage will require you to “read between the lines,” as Pettet suggests (Tsjeng “Art school stole”). If you came for the art, you will not be disappointed.

Vignette II: “My Art is my Sexuality…”

by Jon Wargo

“It was interesting doing this to the audience to see how they’d react.

It was incredibly intimate and mentally exhausting.

Some guy fumbled for his belt. I don’t know who he is.

He just assumed…

There was another guy who pulled my hair back and thrusted his banana down my throat.

Those points made me feel a bit shaky.

I’ve had mixed responses. Some guy was really sad,

>He said I looked like a 13-year-old boy and that it was sad and traumatic –

But fantastic, because I made everyone think they came to a performance

To watch a

19-year-old boy

lose

his virginity.

I will never have sex.

My art is my

sexuality.”

[1]Although we use Abramovic here to frame Pettet’s inspiration for “Art School Stole My Virginity,” the authors recognize recently uncovered stances from her past writings that perpetuate a white gaze and Western Imperialism in which we do not support. return