As we know, Emma "Mattress Girl" Sulkowicz majored in "visual arts" at Columbia University (class of 2015).
In fact, her "senior thesis" at Columbia consisted of carrying a Columbia dorm room mattress around the campus for ten months to protest a male Columbia classmate's alleged rape of her in her dorm room in 2012. (Never mind that a Columbia disciplinary panel had cleared the young man–possibly because Sulkowicz kept sending him "I love you" e-mails after the alleged assault, and also, as is so often the casein matters of this kind, the two had apparently engaged in consensual sex several times before the alleged crime occurred.) The idea was that Sulkowicz would tote the mattress until Columbia expelled the male student or she graduated, whichever came first (since the former never occurred, she was still dragging the mattress when she picked up her degree).
What I always wondered was: What exactly does majoring in "visual arts" at Columbia mean? Don't you have to do something kind of visual-y or artsy–you know, like painting and sculpting? How does hefting a mattress count as visual arts? I can't even draw a stick figure–but could I obtain an Ivy League degree if I pulled the mattress off my marriage bed because I didn't like the way my husband made coffee?
But turns out that two years later Emma Sulkowicz has indeed become a real artist. And is she ever producing art! Let's hear all about it from Broadly:
Since her graduation in May 2015—during which Columbia University president Lee Bollinger refused to shake her hand—Sulkowicz has furiously continued her work as an artist. Soon after, she released Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol, a follow-up to Mattress Performance. Then, she had her first individual gallery show in Los Angeles. For the past year, Sulkowicz has been enrolled in the Whitney Museum's Independent Study Program (ISP) and on May 20th, graduated with a performance at the program's studio exhibition in midtown Manhattan.
Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol is an eight-minute video, starring Sulkowicz herself, a priapic young male, and yet another dorm-room mattress, that Sulkowicz says is not a re-enactment of what allegedly happened on the fateful night of the alleged rape. Hair-trigger warning: the video is definitely Not Safe For Work–although it does show that you can get a lot done in eight minutes.
So–back to Sulkowicz's Whitney Museum graduation project, which, according to Broadly, "tackles the question of the value of art under the Trump administration":
As the performance started, this man in a suit, named Master Avery, started to berate Sulkowicz. "Your boobs are too small," he spat. "You can't even stand up straight." He pulled a long, gnarled rope out of a black leather bag and started tying intricate knots around her upper thigh. Once the knots covered both of Sulkowicz's legs, Master Avery started around her waist, moving her body as he worked quickly. At one point, the rope almost hit Sulkowicz's eye. After a few shocked blinks, she looked up at the audience and laughed….
After what seemed like days—but was was really about 45 minutes—Master Avery had completely tied Sulkowicz up to a large wooden beam. Using a pulley system attached to the ceiling, he used his whole body to lift her from the ground, and after a few tries, Sulkowicz was suspended with her arms and legs wrapped around the beam, rendering her immobile. The rope visibly cut into her skin as Master Avery took off his belt and started hitting her with it….
Later, she's taken down from the ceiling but hung back up. The second time around, Master Avery's beatings became more intense. At one point, he called out to the crowd, asking if anyone else wanted to partake. To everyone's surprise, one man in the audience volunteered, walking up to Sulkowicz and slapping her hard across the face.
Mmm, I guess the message here is that art doesn't have a lot of value under the Trump administration.
Another message: Sulkowicz's parents must have had a lot of money to blow on their daughter's year-long sojurn at the Whitney with Master Avery.
The Whitney Museum's Independent Study Program website says the program "encourages the theoretical and critical study of the practices, institutions, and discourses that constitute the field of culture." You can say that again.
So, see? Emma Sulkowicz is a real artist after all. That Columbia "visual arts" degree paid off.