A summer of horror: torture and electric chairs at amusement parks and Hitler at Madame Tussauds
By Charmaine Picard, Helen Stoilas and Emily Sharpe. News, Issue 194, September 2008
Published online: 11 September 2008
NEW YORK. The US government interrogation practice of waterboarding will be enacted by animated robots in an installation by artist Steve Powers opening on 21 September at the Park Avenue Armory. For $1 viewers can watch as a life-sized hooded figure pours water over the mouth and nose of a bound man, producing a grisly 15 seconds of convulsions. The installation was shown at New York’s seaside amusement park Coney Island in August, where it was situated among rides, games and freak show attractions.
The title, Waterboard Thrill Ride, belies the artist’s true intent. “Not calling waterboarding torture is to me as ridiculous as calling it a ‘thrill ride’,” Powers told The Art Newspaper. “I think everyone understands that it is torture, and only one person’s vote changed the practice from being illegal to legal.”
Powers feels that most people are misinformed about waterboarding, which simulates the sensation of drowning. Reactions to the piece when shown at Coney Island have varied from those who find it offensive to a US veteran who applauded the work and remains “stridently pro-waterboarding”.
The artist originally hoped to fully recreate a waterboarding session, but it is against the law to forcibly restrain a person. “Although the technique is legal, there is no legal way of doing it,” he said.
As part of the project, Powers and several lawyers voluntarily underwent waterboarding by former Army interrogator, Mike Ritz. They were led, hooded, into a room and placed on a bright yellow table with their heads angled downwards. A black towel was forced into their mouths and their noses were clamped shut as water was poured over their faces. No one could withstand the interrogation technique for more than ten seconds.
“The biggest surprise was being shoved around…It was terrifying,” said Karin Kunstler Goldman, a New York Assistant Attorney General. “For a few seconds there was a modicum of terror,” said her husband, Neal Goldman, a retired attorney who also participated. He believes that under real conditions, the psychological and physical distress waterboarding creates could quickly escalate.
Mike Ritz gives the most practical criticism of the technique saying: “It just doesn’t work. When a person is strapped down, you can’t read their stress levels [and figure out if they’re telling the truth].”
In March President Bush vetoed a bill that would ban waterboarding and other brutal interrogation methods. The CIA is known to have used this technique on at least three Al Qaeda suspects after 11 September.
BERLIN: HITLER AT MADAME TUSSAUDS
A visitor decapitated a wax statue of Adolf Hitler in July minutes after it went on view for the first time at Madame Tussauds. The 41-year old was protesting the museum’s decision to include a statue of the former Nazi dictator in its new Berlin branch. The museum plans to put the work back on display once it has been repaired.
BOLZANO: CRUCIFIED FROG AT LOCAL MUSEUM
As we went to press, Italian religious and political leaders were demanding that a sculpture of a crucified frog by the late German artist Martin Kippen - berger be taken off display at the Museum of Modern Art in Bol - zano. The work was described as a “public obscenity” by 10,000 locals who have signed a petition for its removal. The museum’s decision to put the frog on show has been seen as deliberately provocative as Pope Benedict XVI is vacationing in the nearby town of Bressanone.
MILAN: ELECTRIC CHAIR AT AMUSEMENT PARK
Children out for a day of fun at a popular amusement park in Milan were treated to a mock execution. For only €1, guests could flip a switch and witness a lifelike mannequin grimace and writhe around until large plumes of smoke emanated from its head. Following protests, the installation was taken off display after just one day.
SYDNEY: BLEEDING CHRIST UP FOR RELIGIOUS AWARD
A crucifixion triptych by Adam Cullen has triggered the resignation of a judge of the annual Blake Prize for Religious Art. Dr Christopher Allen, art critic for The Australian newspaper, quit the panel after the Sydney artist’s painting, Corpus Christi (Women Only Bleed), was selected as a finalist. According to Dr Allen, the three judges had voted two to one to reject the painting on 1 August, but religious scholar Dr Kathleen McPhillips, who originally voted against the work, changed her mind the next day. Rev Rod Pattenden, who chairs the prize, accepted Dr McPhillips’s change of heart as a change in the vote, which Dr Allen regarded as “outrageous” saying, “I wrote back [to Rev Pattenden] and said, ‘if you put Cullen in you take me out’.” Far from being offended by the work, Dr Allen says he rejected the painting because it was “ugly and boring”. The winner will be announced on 4 September at the National Art School (Elizabeth Fortescue)
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