Emma Sulkowicz, the recent Columbia University graduate who famously carried a twin mattress around campus throughout her senior year in protest of the school’s decision not to expel Paul Nungesser, the student she accuses of raping her, has released a follow-up project in the form of a performance art video depicting a rape in a dorm room that is not supposed to be her specific (alleged) rape in her specific dorm room.
The video, which is 8-minutes long and contains graphic content, is titled “Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol,” French for “This Is Not a Rape.” Directed by Ted Larson, it features Sulkowicz and a male actor (whose face is blurred) in a dorm room. Their apparently consensual sex takes a violent turn when the faceless male, who is not supposed to be Nungesser, proceeds to slap and choke her. In a statement, she insists the video is “not about one night in August, 2012,” when her supposed rape occurred, even though it might seem like a reenactment.
The 22-year-old’s senior thesis, Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight), had Sulkowicz lugging a twin mattress from class to class, and even to graduation, projecting her to Internet infamy and turning her into one of the most outspoken anti-rape advocates in the country. “I think that’s definitely one of the things that inspired me to make this work,” Sulkowicz told Artnet in an interview about her new piece. “Just, my new relationship to the media.” She added of her initial project, “I had no idea it would get noticed by anyone when I first made it. I figured that the only people helping me would be, like, people who thought that I was just some idiot girl trying to carry a mattress by herself.”
Emma Sulkowicz and her mattress. Photo: Getty Images
She explained in the text accompanying the video that she was also motivated to make it — and, in the process, voluntarily put herself in a vulnerable position — because she wants “to change the world.“ The page leads with a “trigger warning” and seems to equate not watching the video with an open mind to rape. “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.”
Reaction so far hasn’t been kind; a majority of the 200 comments on cecinestpasunviol.com are negative. But Sulkowicz’s main goal seems to be to start a conversation surrounding rape, and she’s certainly done that.