Water Torture

48” barrel, five channel DVD loop, five wood television cabinets with screens ranging 4” to 7”
Installation dimensions variable

A dim amber light illuminates the exterior of a chest-high barrel in a dark room with black walls. At the bottom of the barrel lies five wooden television cabinets, all facing upwards. Each of the five television sets are one-of-a-kind, handcrafted by the artist; their designs are derived from vintage radio and television cabinetry. The silvery glow of the television tubes provides the primary light source. All power and video feed cables are hidden below the exhibition floor.

The installation’s title, Water Torture, derives from a middle-America schoolyard myth of “Chinese water torture.” This urban myth dates back to the artist’s childhood in the 1980s, decades before the United States systematic and publicly acknowledged use of waterboarding. According to legend, a prisoner is placed in a large barrel and then exposed to a slow but steady rhythm of single drops of water to the top of their head. After several days, the dripping would be stopped suddenly, resulting in instant madness for the captive. The piece itself is an exploration of the uncertain rhythms of anticipation and discomfort that many young adults experience while pursuing lasting monogamous romantic relationships.

A five channel video loop plays on the televisions. Imagery from these video channels includes: a house of cards that magically builds itself, a koi fish fleeting out of frame, an engagement ring on a rotating mannequin hand, and two clips from the Jean Harlow film, Bombshell.

Miniature hand carved vintage television set used as part of Water Torture, artwork by James Leonard, 2000