Carrying a Mattress: Performance Art Thesis

In the last few days, I'm sure you've seen the below post going around Facebook (heck, even Upworthy covered it!)

If you're like me, many times I've just scanned the headline and moved on.  I must admit, I did that with this article too.  Until, someone pointed out to me that she is a performance artist! Now, I know what you're thinking, we're friends and we can admit it, you're thinking about some avant garde performer who is doing something similar to mime and everyone is simply pretending to understand. I get it; honestly.  I'm a theatre major and even got a masters in theatre history and when I try to comprehend the history and transformation of performance art....I'll admit's a bit daunting and confusing.  Here's the basics of what you need to know:

Performance art is a term usually reserved to refer to a conceptual art which conveys a content-based meaning in a more drama-related sense, rather than being simple performance for its own sake for entertainment purposes. It largely refers to a performance presented to an audience, but which does not seek to present a conventional theatrical play or a formal linear narrative, or which alternately does not seek to depict a set of fictitious characters in formal scripted interactions. It therefore can include action or spoken word as a communication between the artist and audience, or even ignore expectations of an audience, rather than following a script written beforehand. (source)

Emma Zulkowicz is a senior visual arts major at Columbia University and is using this protest as her senior thesis towards her degree, and she has appropriately named the piece "Mattress Performance" or "Carry that Weight." Zulkowicz says that the artistic side of the piece is a literal representation of the emotional weight caused by the ordeal she has endured after being raped her sophomore year.

There are a number of articles that discuss how she is not alone in filing suit against Columbia University in their mishandling of sexual assault cases which potentially places the university in violation of Title IX.

Though her piece has received some significant media attention, I did a bit of snooping into what would create a pass/fail in terms of her thesis, and here are the two classes she has to "pass" in order to obtain her degree:

Senior Thesis I & II: The student is required to produce a significant body of work in which the ideas, method of investigation, and execution are determined by the student. A plan is developed in consultation with the faculty. Seminars; presentations. At the end an exhibition or other public venue is presented for evaluation. Studio space is provided. (Source)
Visiting Critique I & II: A second opinion is provided to the senior students regarding the development of their senior project. Critics consist of distinguished visitors and faculty. Issues regarding the premise, methodology, or presentation of the student's ideas are discussed and evaluated on an ongoing basis. (Source)
Since part of her project is a statement against the university's ability to handle the situation, I truly hope that she is able to find non-bias judges for the merit of her thesis project!  Interested in learning more about the project?  Watch the video below as Emma explains the project in her own words.

On a mobile device? Watch the video here.

Remember, art and history are occurring and developing everyday around us.  You don't have to look in a history book to find something worth of history!

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  1. This is just a charade to try to stop people from discussing what sexual consent actually means.

    There is only one protest happening now that deserves to be called history, and that's #BlackLivesMatter.

    1. Thanks for your thought and comment. We covered this piece as part of our Art/History blog and are discussing it from an artistic standpoint as this is her senior thesis as a performance artist.