Home Arts ARTiculate: On virginity and “vaginal knitting’”

ARTiculate: On virginity and “vaginal knitting’”

by Mathieu Demers February 11, 2014
ARTiculate: On virginity and “vaginal knitting’”

Graphic by Jenny Kwan

Like it or not, there is no getting away from sexual and graphic images these days. They are present in films, television programs, and have been increasingly prominent lately in magazines and music videos.

But, why?

Yes, sex alone is sexy. But surely this is not enough reason for graphic portrayals of it to be found in the media. So, unless HBO gives me a good reason for its ubiquitous presence in all of its shows — like say, adding value or meaning to the scene or moving forward a story — I am not convinced of its need to be there.

Peppering an otherwise fantastic narrative with highly-stylized graphic shots of sex and merkin-adorned genitals is much like adding whipped cream atop a venti double caramel macchiato — it’s gratuitous.

Let’s look at infamous photographer and Hollywood sleaze-bag du jour, Terry Richardson. His “art” nowadays mainly consists of photographing underage models in risqué poses — even joining in the photograph, conducting various acrobatic sexual acts with models and actresses.

But what is the message here? That Richardson is an agile lover? It’s okay if you want to take pornographic pictures, but let’s not pretend they are art. These photographs are intended to cause more shock to the public than awe.

I’m not a prude, however, I can appreciate sex and explicit imagery if they, like any other element of the art production process (dialogue, colour choice, set design, etc.), contribute to the message being delivered.

Australian artist, Casey Jenkins, made headlines last year when her video performance entitled “Casting Off My Womb” made its way to YouTube. The 28-day performance is of Jenkins, as headlines called it, “vaginal knitting” — she inserted a skein of wool into her vagina everyday, knitting continuously until a menstrual cycle was complete.

While shocking, the message here is simple: it’s about being comfortable in your own skin, and dispelling negative assumptions about the vulva and needless fears about a woman’s period.

If you watch the video, be warned that it’s not-safe-for-work, as Jenkins is understandably naked from the waist down, and there is footage of the final product hung proudly and smeared with blood. Though explicit, this is the kind of graphic art I can get behind.

Another shocking and unique performance that was scheduled to take place earlier this year, is Clayton Pettet’s “Art School Stole My Virginity.” The 19-year-old was aware that he was among the last of his peers to have sex, and became preoccupied with the notion of virginity. The performance would take place in a studio gallery, with an audience of about 100, and would consist of Pettet having protected sex for the first time. Pettet’s goal is to address the pressures one feels about virginity head on, and demystify the experience for others.

Due to an arrest for using graffiti to advertise for his show, Pettet’s performance has been put on hold for now, but the artist remains undeterred about completing his work.

“I want them to take away the complete fucking destruction of virginity. Like all of my art, I want to change people’s perceptions,” said Pettet in an interview with The Daily Beast.

Though their unconventional performances have, and will continue to, outrage many people, Jenkins’ and Pettet’s messages are pretty clear — and thought-provoking at that. What are yours, HBO?


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