There’s just something about porn and Ivy League libraries. First there was the camgirl in Cornell’s Law Library and now Columbia’s Butler Library plays host to a very NSFW art film called “Initiation.” Sorry, INITIATIØN.
The film was created by Slutever provocateur Karley Sciortino and Coco Young, an artist and art history major at Columbia. Also featured in the video is Sara Grace Powell, a senior at Barnard College and a curator for Columbia’s Postcrypt art gallery.
Young told Ivygate that Sciortino approached her about doing a collaboration and they came up with the idea for this video. They filmed it very quickly and discreetly on a Saturday night in November. A few students were around, and they explained that they were filming a video, but New York is such an odd place that apparently no one was really fazed. They put up a tarp to block some of the weirder parts of filming. And yes, to address concerns, they did clean everything up before they left.
While Young has “never experienced a sorority or fraternity,” she is intrigued by them, and this video is a projection of that fascination. Moreover, of course, it is a feminist statement, meant to “showcase the ultimate hysteria state,” and speak to the stigmatization and fetishization of women.
This fetishization is particularly prevalent at Columbia, Young explained. “You know—as a girl—there’s definitely a weird gender tension,” she told me. It’s a fair point: the unclear relationship between Columbia and Barnard leads to confusion and the general dismissal of any woman on campus—from some idiot boys’ (and dumbass girls’) perspective, Barnard is just a pool of slutty girls to pick from. Furthermore, Young continued, Butler Library is particularly emblematic of the male-centricity at Columbia; there are, for example, only male authors’ names on the facade of the building, a historic point of protest. She was also excited about “transcending the everyday space” of the library, “a space we all take for granted.”
Still, Young insists that the video is not specifically critical of Columbia—she is thankful for her time here and loves the school—but rather uses it as a symbol of the male institution. Despite the bizarro gender tensions, Young acknowledges that women at CU/BC are privileged to be generally treated as intelligent individuals.
But she was (as many are) shocked by some of the comments on a post about the video on Bwog. Obviously she couldn’t tell if men or women were writing the comments, but that so many were shocked by the actions of the women onscreen proved her point that women are expected to act in a certain way. She was happy to see one commenter note that it was “hard to masturbate to this.” After all, the girls aimed to “create a repulsion”; there were naked women onscreen, but “they’re not there to make you sexually aroused.”
Although it’s just a fantasy and not a real exposé of Ivy League secrets, the film does end up exposing the “real” Ivy League, but perhaps not in the way that Sciortino and Young intended. During one scene, as the initiates break raw eggs over each others’ heads in a Butler 304b alcove, a student can be seen studying on her Macbook. Headphones in, she briefly side-eyes the commotion next to her, only to go back to her laptop and ignore the mess right next to her.
We can’t imagine a better encapsulation of the Ivy League ethos.
And, for the record, Columbia’s actual secret societies don’t initiate members by splattering them with eggs. They use pie.
UPDATE, 2:45 PM
Sara Grace Powell, BC’14, gives us some more info on the project and her role in it. Young asked her about participating and “[w]ith all the recent discussion about sexual assault on campus I thought it had potential to instigate further discussion. We wanted to politically engage taboo.”
Similarly taboo was the filming experience–”the guerrilla action”–itself. They filmed on GoPro cameras and cellphones, creating the close and eerie surveillance feel.
Powell acknowledges that she “experienced [the Barnard/Columbia] tension first hand,” but it seems the physical building of Butler Library affected her more:
“Butler is an extremely charged space-the names emblazoned on the stone facade are, for me, are a stimulant for resistance. I work in Butler but sometimes feel suffocated by it… The point was to transgress the relative conservatism (and it’s history) of the space with this hysterical intervention.”
We’d wager none would argue that at least some level of conservatism was transgressed with this film.
Additional reporting by Peter Sterne. We’ve reached out to other people involved in the film and will be updating as we hear from them.
[image via Flickr user James MH]