Emma Sulkowicz Breaks New Ground With Troubling Video Performance

Sulkowicz says it is to be viewed as separate from her controversial project.

Emma Sulkowicz Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Emma Sulkowicz, the recent Columbia graduate who has taken the Internet by storm thanks to her year-long performance art project Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight, released a video, which shows two people, one of whom appears to be Sulkowicz, engaged in sexual activity, some of which alludes to rape and can be difficult to watch at times. (See Hackers Disable Emma Sulkowicz Website to Disable New Artwork.)

Sulkowicz confirmed during a phone interview with artnet News on June 4 that she created the video. (See our interview with the artist about this work Emma Sulkowicz Speaks Out About Her New Video Performance.)

We were alerted to the project, which is titled Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol (“This Is Not a Rape”)—a reference to Magritte’s The Treachery of Images—from a post on Facebook by the video’s director Ted Lawson. The video is presented on the website cecinestpasunviol.com along with several hundred words of prefatory text, which warn the visitor: “The following text contains allusions to rape. Everything that takes place in the following video is consensual but may resemble rape.” (See Columbia Student’s Striking Mattress Performance.)

Emma Sulkowicz.

Emma Sulkowicz.

The introduction, which is written under Sulkowicz’s name, notes that both parties consented to the activities shown in the film. It is presented in split-screen and was filmed with cameras arranged around the room. Proceeding both the introduction and the film is a trigger warning.

A portion of the text reads:

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,” Sulkowicz writes. “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.”

“I may not be able to answer many of your questions,” Sulkowicz wrote to us when we reached out to her over Facebook and asked her about the video directed by Lawson. Sulkowicz also agreed to be interviewed (see Emma Sulkowicz Speaks Out About Her New Video Performance). When asked if she wanted people to view the video as a follow-up to the mattress performance, Sulkowicz wrote back, “Separate. It has a diff title.”

“She got my number from Marina Abramović,” Lawson told artnet News over Facebook chat. “She wanted to do a lifecasting for a different project. I agreed to help her with the life cast and became friends and she brought up this project she wanted to do and asked me to direct it and help her produce it.”

Still from the video titled Ceci n'est pas du viol.

Still from the video titled Ceci n’est pas du viol.

According to Lawson, the film was created a few months ago when Sulkowicz was on winter break from her senior year at Columbia University. The website supposedly created by Sulkowicz that features the video and accompanying text went live last night.

“It was a super risky piece and I thought very courageous, so of course I agreed,” said Lawson. “I think it came out quite good.”

The link to the video was posted by Lawson with the message, “A performance art video I directed for Emma Sulkowicz. Your chance to see it before the Internet has a nuclear meltdown.” When asked why he posted the video before Sulkowicz had announced it, he replied, “She’s going to let it just kind of propagate. She doesn’t plan on posting anything.”

Sulkowicz also presents the viewer with a series of questions to ask themselves before, during, and after their experience of viewing the film, including “Are you searching for proof? Proof of what?,” “What do you want from this experience?,” “How well do you think you know me? Have we ever met?,” and “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?”

You can watch Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol here

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