Emma Sulkowicz, the former Columbia University student behind the now iconic performance "Carry That Weight," also known as "Mattress Performance," has released her newest artwork, a website titled "Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol" -- this is not a rape -- comprised of a written introduction and a graphic sexual video, which you can view here.
Still from "Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol"
The eight-minute video, which was made in December of 2014, depicts Sulkowicz and a male actor -- his face blurred -- engaging in what appears to be consensual sex that turns aggressive, violent and alarming. Presented in split-screen, with cameras positioned around the room, the video shows the male actor choke and slap Sulkowicz, remove his condom, and penetrate her despite her cries of pain.
The video, directed by Ted Lawson, is introduced by a trigger warning, written by Sulkowicz, that ensures the actions on film were entirely consensual, though they resemble rape.
"'Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol' is not about one night in August, 2012," the intro reads. "It's about your decisions, starting now. It's only a reenactment if you disregard my words. It's about you, not him." The August night the artist refers to references the night Sulkowicz claims she was raped by a fellow Columbia student, the impetus for "Carry That Weight."
Sulkowicz goes on to explicitly clarify that the video is not about her rape, challenging the viewer to think critically about how they are digesting and interpreting the content.
"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."
The artist then raises a number of questions worth considering when reflecting upon the piece, including "Do you desire pleasure? Do you desire revulsion? Is this to counteract your unconscious enjoyment? What do you want from this experience?" and "Are you searching for proof? Proof of what? Are you searching for ways to either hurt or help me?"
"It was a super risky piece and I thought very courageous," director Lawson told artnet News. According to Lawson, he was introduced to Sulkowicz by none other than Marina Abramovic, who Emma described as "a hoot."
Sulkowicz further insisted to artnet News that "Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol" is fully independent of her previous work, "Carry That Weight." She added: "They’re two separate performance art pieces, but I’m trying to make them both as good as I can. And I think that with performance art, that’s part of what makes it good… making yourself vulnerable."
In September 2014, Sulkowicz embarked on the endurance performance "Carry That Weight," lugging a 50-pound mattress, the standard in Columbia dorms, around campus wherever she went. The work is a protest against sexual assault, specifically addressing the assault Sulkowicz says she suffered in her own dorm room in August 2012. Sulkowicz has previously described how a fellow student she'd had consensual sex with twice before anally raped her, and was subsequently deemed not responsible for the act by the university.
The artwork sparked mattress-centric protests against sexual assault at universities around the world. Sulkowicz promised to continue the performance until the man accused of attacking her was no longer on campus. The performance culminated when the two both graduated in May.
Among many of the unexpected reactions to Sulkowicz's piece was a hugely supportive review from art critic Roberta Smith, which concluded: "It seems certain that the piece has set a very high standard for any future work she’ll do as an artist and will also earn her a niche in the history of intensely personal yet aggressively political performance art."
Now, Sulkowicz's first post-grad piece is simple yet stinging, providing imagery that lingers like a nightmare, never quite comprehensible but impossible to forget.
We reached out to Sulkowicz for comment, but had yet to hear back at time of publication.