Emma Sulkowicz's "Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol" Art Piece Is Unsettling And Thought-Provoking
Recent Columbia University graduate Emma Sulkowicz gained national attention with her Carry That Weight performance art piece in which she carried, at all times, a mattress representing the one on which she claims she was raped on Columbia's campus in August of 2012. She planned to carry it with her everywhere she went as long as her alleged rapist, Paul Nungesser, was still on campus. Both Sulkowicz and Nungesser, who claims he was falsely accused, graduated this year and Carry That Weight is now over — but Sulkowicz has just unveiled a new art piece, one that also deals with rape in a much less straightforward way. The piece is entitled "Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol," French for "This Is Not a Rape," and it comes with a major trigger warning.
The piece involves an eight minute video which Sulkowicz filmed over Columbia's winter break, directed by Ted Larson and featuring both Sulkowicz and a male actor whose face has been blurred out and whose name is unlisted. The film takes place in a dorm room and depicts what is described as a consensual sexual encounter which then appears to turn violent. The man in the video slaps Sulkowicz, chokes her, and removes the condom. Sulkowicz protests, but the man proceeds to have sex with her. Sulkowicz says in the description on the website that the video is not a recreation of what she alleges happened between herself and Nungesser; nor is it about "one night in August 2012." She reiterates that the scene was consensual.
Accompanying the video are several questions encouraging self reflection in the viewer, such as:
She also states, "Do not watch this video if your motives would upset me, my desires are unclear to you, or my nuances are indecipherable."
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.
Taken together, the website itself seems to serve as the full installation, raising questions not just about consent or about trauma but also public responses to sex, violence, trauma, and victims.
Since her Carry That Weight project gained national attention, Sulkowicz has faced intense backlash; many have called her a liar and an attention seeker who is trying to ruin an innocent young man. One anonymous person (or perhaps several people working together) even went so far as to put up posters of Sulkowicz calling her a "Pretty Little Liar" around Columbia's campus over her graduation weekend. People also have used Sulkowicz's Facebook messages with Nungesser to "prove" she was not a victim.
"Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol" is not nearly as straight forward a piece as Carry That Weight, and is one that seems to be speaking as much to people's reaction to Sulkowicz as it is about what she herself has experienced — which, given the strong reactions people have had and continue to have judging by the comments section on the site, is certainly a dynamic worthy of investigation.
You can find the project, including the video, here. (And for the love of all that is good and holy, for your peace of mind and ability not to be destroyed by rage aneurisms, do not read the comments.)