Emma Sulkowicz’s Performance Piece Takes On Her Alleged Rapist At Columbia University

Sulkowicz

For centuries, artists have funneled suffering and anger into their art. Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz is doing the same, using her work “Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight” as an endurance performance art piece protesting the lack of school imposed consequences on the man she says raped her in her dorm room.

American colleges are notorious for their treatment of sexual assault cases brought to them by students, often pressuring victims not to report attacks to the police and conducting disciplinary hearings related to sexual assault led by improperly trained personnel.

Sulkowicz’s story is similar to many — in fact she says that her rapist committed the same crime on a number of other women on their campus. The difference is the way that she’s chosen to use her art piece as a call to action. Sulkowicz will carry a dorm room mattress with her until her alleged attacker either moves off campus or the school expels him. She says:

I’ve written up 5 pages for the rules of engagement for the piece. I’ve tried to make it as thorough and well-researched as I can – as long as I’m on Columbia campus or any Columbia-owned property, I have to have this mattress with me. It’s an extra-long twin and made of foam so it’s not heavy and impossible, but it’s floppy and unruly. … I could have taken my pillow, but I want people to see how it weighs down a person to be ignored by the school administration and harassed by police.

One of the rules of engagement she’s created is that she’s not allowed to ask for help in carrying the mattress, but others are allowed to offer help, which she can accept. This is an interesting choice, implying that perhaps she’s still dealing with the self-blame survivors of rape frequently experience.

The entire project serves as a self-imposed scarlet letter in many ways. Sulkowicz has bravely allowed herself to become the visible face of a horrifying violation, one that still carries significant victim shaming. Just read the You Tube comments to see what she’s enduring by going public. She says, “I feel like it’s taken over my entire college experience. It’s like a cloud that will always hang over me.” Yet by committing to this public performance, she is continuing to burden herself every day, literally and figuratively, with memories of the experience. In her creation of art in the face of terrible pain, one can only hope that Emma Sulkowicz finds peace. (via New York)

 

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Mark Hunter Brown: The Future History

Mark Hunter Brown is a truly dynamic individual.  I have known Brown for the better part of a decade, and I am relatively positive that I will never meet another person quite like him.  With each day functioning more like the next chapter in a bizarre novel, his zest for life is infectious.  Luckily, Brown is also an amazing artist, and has managed to document his interests and experiences through countless drawings and paintings.  Though he gains inspiration from his travels, the work is not limited to the places and people he has actually interacted with.  Brown is also heavily influenced by the written historical accounts of different cultures and people, but the work is not about visually representing his source material.  Instead, he chooses to focus on the importance of the moments recorded history has chosen to ignore.  There is this dead zone in between the great scenes of history that also warrants consideration, and Brown is keenly aware of this.  When asked why he is drawn to this type of situation Brown replied, “because life doesn’t look like a Delacroix painting – it’s just people walking around and eating sandwiches. These moments seem more real to me…they’re equally compelling.”

While these scenes are not infrequent in his work, Brown’s practice is not limited to this type of subject matter. There is far less literal material in Brown’s oeuvre, and his vivid imagination becomes readily apparent when looking at paintings of huge figurative fortresses or anthropomorphized coo-coo clocks snorting bones off of a table.  When viewed in context these paintings start to function as some sort of bizarre allegory, but their meaning is never explicitly stated.  There is such a rich diversity in the distinctive worlds that Brown creates, and no piece is less detailed than the last.  Whether he is teaching at Columbia, backpacking through Morocco, or boar hunting with monks in the Italian countryside – the need to process the world into visually compelling images has remained consistent within Brown’s life.  Lucky for us, his mind seems to function like an endless supply of Google image search results that I have no desire to stop looking at any time soon.

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