Animatronic waterboarding exhibit at Coney Island

Artist Steve Powers has created a Guantanamo Bay waterboarding exhibition at Coney Island -- for a buck, you can watch an animatronic torture reenactment. This is the most intriguing use of animatronics I've heard of since I got to see the animatronic reenactment of the castration of the eunuch admiral Zhèng Hé at the 1421 exhibit in Singapore.

If you climb up a few cinderblock steps to the small window, you can look through the bars at a scene meant to invoke a Guantánamo Bay interrogation. A lifesize figure in a dark sweatshirt, the hood drawn low over his face, leans over another figure in an orange jumpsuit, his face covered by a towel and his body strapped down on a tilted surface.

Feed a dollar into a slot, the lights go on, and Black Hood pours water up Orange Jumpsuit’s nose and mouth while Orange Jumpsuit convulses against his restraints for 15 seconds. O.K., kids, who wants more cotton candy!

In interrupting a day at the beach with scenes of the United States government’s rougher practices, Mr. Powers is being deliberately provocative. “What’s more obscene,” he asks, “the official position that waterboarding is not torture, or our official position that it’s a thrill ride?”

Link (Thanks to Mark and everyone else who suggested this!)

(Image: Michael Nagle for The New York Times)


  1. Steve Powers. aka ESPO

    aka the Exterior Surface Protection Organization.

    and now this. One of the sharpest minds in humor and aesthetics.

  2. I just spent a weekend as a guest performer at Coney Island (this is set up right next to the bally stage for Sideshows by the Seashore). A fair amount of people step up to look in but I never saw anyone put in a dollar – most just go look in the window and then say “huh?”, moving on shortly thereafter.

    I think its brilliant but I also think it is lost upon most of the people encountering it who mistake it for a broken or random sideshow exhibit.

  3. @8 I don’t think many of the people even notice the money slot at all. I meant it was lost on them in the sense that they look inside and don’t think about torture, they just wonder absently what they are supposed to be seeing and move on confused more than anything – at least that is what I observed. I agree that it is great that it is there.

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