A few days ago, I was Googling around to find some information on the Emma Sulkowicz (“Mattress Girl”) rape case when I realized that the first result referred to a sex video. Now, I already thought she was psychotic, and entitled, and selfish, and that- despite the overwhelming evidence of Paul Nungesser’s innocence- I’d always be in the liberal minority for such views. Yet if I had even a phantom of a doubt re: Mattress Girl’s inner troubles, it was lifted when she decided to make this video and pass it off as something other than what it is: a re-renewal of the attention she’s craved for well over a year now, waning ever since the two students graduated and went separate ways.
Officially, I guess, the video is called an “art work,” but let’s be real. It’s nothing more than a sex tape. Adding a little history to it- as well as a pinch of psychosis- does nothing to change the fundamentals of what happens when you sit down, push a button, and wait for the pixels to light up. In short, look at it for what’s on screen rather than what you wish to project upon it- what isn’t there. There are 4 frames to show a series of sex acts (some of them violent) filmed from 4 different angles, with a French title- Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol– meant to obscure the hollowness of the actual ‘film’. It’s ridiculous that I even have to argue such a point, but this is little more than a reflection of what people deem to be serious.
It gets worse. The video was time-stamped 8/12/2012 (the date of the alleged rape) to ‘deepen’ her original claims, as well as further needle Paul Nungesser. Of course, given that Nungesser has a lawsuit pending for his gross mis-treatment, the date was promptly removed during a several-hour stretch that Sulkowicz claims was a hacking attack on her website. More likely, however, Sulkowicz wanted to retain whatever bit of plausible deniability that she has left. For the facts of the case have not changed:
1. Paul Nungesser was accused of rape many months after the alleged incident.
2. Nungesser and Sulkowicz continued to exchange pleasantries- including flirtations- into the winter.
3. The accusation came AFTER enough months had passed to ‘establish’ an odd case re: Nungesser’s character. “Josie” claimed he tried to kiss and grope her without permission– then sent fun, sexual e-mails to him later, mirroring Sulkwociz’s own behavior. “Natalie” more or less claimed he was a bad boyfriend rather than abusive– yet had just come out of an abusive relationship, herself, was suffering from depression, and still agreed to meet up/make plans after their breakup.
4. Columbia investigates Nungesser and finds nothing- even though an investigator admitted to really wanting to find fault with him, only to conclude that Sulkowicz was lying.
5. The police might have investigated, but Sulkowicz declined due to the emotional battery of having to re-live the rape via invasive questions.
6. Not satisfied with a fair investigation, nor wishing to get any other impartial parties involved, she decided to carry around a mattress as a performance-piece (“Carry That Weight“) designed to bully Nungesser out of Columbia. In short, fuck the investigation- fuck pressing charges- she wants the guy expelled, anyway, to pacify her against Columbia’s own policies. As for Columbia? They’re frightened of the media, and therefore get themselves into a legal pickle by allowing- encouraging, in fact- the girl to continue shaming Nungesser by accepting things that are not.
7. After months of quiet, she gets over (I guess) the alleged rape, and wishes to record herself getting plowed by an obese man with a violent streak to make a ‘point’. How odd- I guess answering the police questions was potentially more damaging than re-living (and recording) your own abuse?
And THIS is why Sulkowicz is so ‘controversial’. All the Men’s Rights Activist claims re: men getting falsely accused of rape are quite obnoxious, to me, but it obviously does happen. This is probably one of those cases, boosting the parasitism of MRA, on the one hand, and turning regular men into little kids seething with resentment on the other. The point is, they’ve got REASON to be angry. I mean- if official exoneration ain’t enough; if ridiculous inconsistencies don’t qualify; if refusal to cooperate with authorities isn’t a red flag; if starring in your own ‘look-at-me’ porno is ‘brave’ rather than narcissistic, then what do regular men- mediocre men- have to offer women, since nothing of them is really desired? Or so the narrative goes, replete with the tangents that will come to be accepted as part of ‘rape culture’.
As for Mattress Girl’s cinematic reception? Here’s a few commentators from the God-awful Jezebel website:
I think what is interesting about this internet installation (or whatever) is that it forcibly blurs the distinctions between the private space of artistic experience and the public realities of political expression. Everyone recognized that Carry That Weight was inherently political and social in nature — it aimed at revealing systemic problems in the way that people relate to each other. It did so, however, purely performatively. People would look at Emma, either in her presence or via photographs, and respond in their own private way. Here, by making it a website, people have to chose to watch it. They are no longer passive spectators like they were to CTW. To even experience this work is to actually partake in the processes of victimization and objectification that CTW was trying to point out. It’s almost as if the “topic” of CTW has been turned into the process of watching, made inseparable from the artwork itself. The private space of artistic experience is invaded by the politics of gender.Having said that, I’m not precisely sure how coherent the whole thing is.
There’s a long history of rape imagery and violence in the history of art, particularly the feminist performance art that she seems to be tapping into (I think of Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece in which the issues of violence, consent, and spectacle are simultaneously meshed and deconstructed). If anything Sulkowicz’s work strikes me as interesting because it revisits those theme, largely abandoned by the visual arts abandoned sometime in the 1980s, and she treats them in these deeply conflicted ways. It certainly makes it hard to watch—which it should be—but there’s a empathy and intelligence in her work that I find compelling.
Anyway, I wrote about Carry That Weight and feminist performance art last year and I still think that that piece – and this one which is thematically linked – is a radical look at consent, both what it means in the history of art (who has the right to look at/to create a body) and in our day to day lives. I look forward to seeing where her work goes in the future.
I’m really conflicted here.
On the one hand, this is misguided, sophomoric, exploitative and narcissistic. The kind of exhibitionistic stunt with pretensions to art that you might expect of someone who’s not very mature for her age.
On the other hand, she’s a survivor, so we need to support her, understand the trauma and confusion that assault triggers and respect her choice to tell her truth in the manner she deems most fitting.
On the third hand, she seems to be developing a disconcerting pattern of drawing public attention to her vagina 24/7.
On the fourth hand, it’s her vagina and she can draw as much attention to it as she wants as long as it’s on her terms.
On the fifth hand, this will probably lead even reasonably-minded people to question her judgement and sincerity, if not her mental stability, and cast doubt on her accusations, thereby hurting the cause.
On the sixth hand, fuck worrying about how anyone is going to shame-and-blame a survivor for her choices. We’ve been worrying about that shit forever and it hasn’t exactly helped the cause.
On the seventh hand, wtf?
And there it is, folks- 3 people discussing art that don’t give a damn about art, but merely the recycling process- into something dumb, silly, unrecognizable, useless. Notice how that last commentator is struggling with his own good sense- that this IS narcissistic, and exploitative, and crass, yet turns around- MUST turn around- simply because it’s what’s expected. Simply because Emma Sulkowicz is now the dominant narrative, rather than ‘a’ victim.