Woman who carried mattress around Columbia University makes sex video for new art project

Emma Sulkowicz said the film was not a 're-enactment' of her alleged attack

Lizzie Dearden
Sunday 07 June 2015 01:11
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest

The woman who carried a mattress around Columbia University in protest over its inaction against the man she accused of raping her has made a video appearing to show non-consensual sex.

Emma Sulkowicz said her video, named “Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol”, meaning “this is not a rape” in French, is “not a re-enactment” of the night in August 2012 when she claims to have been attacked.

The male student was cleared of wrongdoing by a campus tribunal and stayed at Columbia, inspiring a project called “Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight” in which Ms Sulkowicz carried the furniture wherever she went for her visual arts thesis.

Emma Sulkowicz with her mattress at Columbia University last year

She was applauded by fellow students as she carried the mattress with her as she accepted her diploma at a graduation ceremony last month.

Ms Sulkowicz’s latest project shows what could be interpreted as rape starting with consensual sexual contact, echoing her account of her alleged attack.

An introduction on the project’s website says both people in the film, directed by Ted Lawson, consented to the acts shown.

“Everything that takes place in the following video is consensual but may resemble rape,” Ms 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 re-enactment 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.”

The video, which is currently not displaying on the website, shows a woman appearing to be Ms Sulkowicz and a man appearing to begin having consensual sex, which then turns violent as the man slaps and chokes the woman, removing a condom to continue having sex with her as she whimpers in apparent pain.

The former student wrote that she made herself vulnerable because she “wants to change the world” by making people see themselves differently.

“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,” she continued.

“Please, don't participate in my rape. Watch kindly.”

Following the video, a number of questions are posed for viewers including “are you searching for proof?” and “are you searching for ways to either hurt or help me?”.

Ms Sulkowicz also asks if people “desire pleasure” or “revulsion” from the video and whether they “refuse to see (her) as either a human being or a victim…and further victimise me”.

“Do you hate me?” she asks. “If so, how does it feel to hate me?”

Ms Sulkowicz’s mattress project provoked huge debate about the rights of women making sexual abuse claims and those accused, and generated huge criticism of Columbia University both from people who wanted her alleged attacker to be expelled and those who thought he was not sufficiently protected.

A formal police complaint was made last year but the district attorney’s office said charges would not be brought because of a “lack of reasonable suspicion”.

The accused student also attempted to sue Columbia University, claiming it effectively sponsored his “gender-based harassment and defamation” after news of Ms Sulkowicz’s performance made international headlines.