Emma Sulkowicz Speaks Out About Her New Video Performance

Sulkowicz was inspired by her new relationship to the media.

Emma Sulkowicz Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

After breaking the news about her first post-grad, post-mattress artwork, a video that shows two people—one of whom is Sulkowicz—engaged in sexual activity, some of which alludes to rape (see Emma Sulkowicz Breaks New Ground with Troubling Video Performance), artnet News caught up with Emma Sulkowicz to discuss the video. The recent Columbia graduate, who took the Internet by storm with her year-long performance art project Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight, was partly inspired by her new relationship to the media.

You made the film [Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol] over winter break, a few months ago, correct?

And how did the idea to make it come about?
I honestly am going to hold off on that question, because I don’t want to color the way people read this piece yet. You can try asking me later, but I’m very cautious of what I say right now.

I was told by the director of the film, Ted Lawson, that you aren’t interested in making a big deal about the video’s release. Can you speak to that sentiment a little bit?
I am interested in what the public does with it, which begins with the way they deal with it from the moment it’s disseminated.

So it’s attempting to also make a statement about social media and the way things go viral?
Yeah, definitely.

Has it been weird to receive all this media buzz over the past year?
It’s been terrifying. Yeah, I am definitely just responding in the way that I know how. And I think that’s definitely one of the things that inspired me to make this work. Just, my new relationship to the media.

Was there a specific point during Mattress Performance that you realized ‘Wow, this is becoming really big’?
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.  So, that ended up not being the case at all. Basically, from day two I was shocked at what was happening to me.

One of the things that really struck me about the text accompanying the video is when you write “You might be wondering why I’ve made myself this vulnerable…I want to change the world.” Is it that thinking that made you want to become an artist?
I don’t know that it’s why I want to be an artist, but it’s why I’m forced to be an artist. It’s more that being an artist is the only way I know how.

Do you think that making yourself vulnerable is what it takes to change the world these days?

It’s brave, and I understand why you don’t want people to view it as any kind of follow-up to Mattress Performance, but the thing that connects the two works even more than subject matter is your level of openness and willingness to put yourself there.
I think that’s what makes a good performance art piece, right? 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. But they are completely different pieces.

You’ve met Marina Abramović, correct? Can you share a little bit about what meeting her was like?
She’s a hoot. She’s hilarious. We obviously met before this piece came out. We met during the winter, I think, during Mattress Performance. And she was hilarious and she kept saying ‘you need to make sure you finish Mattress Performance,’ and I was like, ‘of course I’m finishing Mattress Performance.’ And then we were sitting next to each other at dinner and she just kept nudging me and saying ‘tell me about the next piece, tell me about the next piece,’ and I was like, ‘I can’t tell you about the next piece, it’s a secret!’ It was funny. And then the next time we hung out…I’m working on another piece, which should be done within a week or so…so she helped me get the materials for that piece, to get set up in a way. I needed to know some people who could do some things and she helped with that.

So can you tell us anything else about the next piece?

Are you concerned at all about being stigmatized or pigeon-holed by Mattress Performance?
Yeah, I mean, when people call me “Mattress Girl” I find that really infuriating. It’s like, okay great, so you think that I’ll never progress beyond that point. That I’ll be a “Mattress Girl” rather than a living, breathing person who has the ability to change.

Does it concern you that the subject matter of this video might feed into those stereotypes?
I guess I hope people are smart enough to realize that they are different works, and should be treated separately.

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