Emma Sulkowicz, who carried the mattress in protest of the university’s refusal to suspend the man she accused of rape, releases new performance art piece
The Columbia University graduate who carried a dorm room mattress on campus for months in protest at the school’s refusal to expel the man she accused of raping her, released a performance art piece that depicts a sexual encounter she warns “may resemble rape”.
The video is the artist’s first major work since the conclusion in May of her almost yearlong performance art piece, Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight. The video called Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol , French for “This Is Not a Rape”, is hosted on a website created by Emma Sulkowicz.
Introductory text for the video contains a trigger warning: “The following text contains allusions to rape. Everything that takes place in the following video is consensual but may resemble rape.”
Sulkowicz and her mattress became a powerful symbol of the movement to reform campus sexual assault proceedings after she decided to carry it around the university for her visual arts senior thesis.
Sulkowicz accused Paul Nungesser, a fellow Columbia graduate, of raping her in August 2012, during her sophomore year. She reported the incident to school officials, who investigated the incident. Nungesser was later cleared by a campus tribunal and has maintained that the encounter was consensual.
However, Sulkowicz vowed to carrythe mattress across the university’s New York campus and into classes until the school expelled Nungesser. The university did not expel him, and instead, Sulkowicz ended the performance piece by hoisting the mattress one last time to carry it across the stage at the university’s graduation ceremony in May. Nungesser is suing the university , its president and an art professor, alleging that the school enabled a harassment campaign.
Sulkowicz has said the sex she had with Nungesser began consensually, but then turned violent. The video echoes her account of that night in August 2012: though Sulkowicz says it is not a re-enactment, she does appear in the video.
Of the video, Sulkowicz writes:
Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol is not about one night in August, 2012. It’s about your decisions, starting now. It’s only a reenactment if you disregard my words. It’s about you, not him.
Do not watch this video if your motives would upset me, my desires are unclear to you, or my nuances are indecipherable.
You might be wondering why I’ve made myself this vulnerable. Look—I want to change the world, and that begins with you, seeing yourself. If you watch this video without my consent, then I hope you reflect on your reasons for objectifying me and participating in my rape, for, in that case, you were the one who couldn’t resist the urge to make Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol about what you wanted to make it about: rape.
Please, don’t participate in my rape. Watch kindly.
In the text accompanying the video, Sulkowicz also asks viewers to reflect on a series of questions:
- “Are you searching for proof? Proof of what?”
- “Do you desire pleasure? Do you desire revulsion? Is this to counteract your unconscious enjoyment? What do you want from this experience?”
- “How well do you think you know me? Have we ever met?”
- “Do you refuse to see me as either a human being or a victim? If so, why? Is it to deny me agency and thus further victimize me? If so, what do you think of the fact that you owe your ability to do so to me, since I’m the one who took a risk and made myself vulnerable in the first place?”
The video’s director, artist Ted Lawson, told ArtNet News that they filmed the video a few months ago, during Sulkowicz’s winter break. He said Sulkowicz got his contact information from performance artist Marina Abramović. While collaborating on a separate project, Lawson said Sulkowicz suggested the video and asked him to direct it.
“It was a super risky piece and I thought very courageous, so of course I agreed,” Lawson told ArtNet News. “I think it came out quite good.”
The video, which went live on Wednesday, is temporarily down, though Sulkowicz said her team is working to restore it.
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