Democracy in America | The National Camgaign

Steve Powers’ The Waterboard Thrill Ride
The Arcade at Coney Island, New York, NY: July 26 to late August
Monday/Tuesday: 12-8pm
Wednesday-Sunday: 2-8pm

On Saturday, July 26 Creative Time and artist Steve Powers will open The Waterboard Thrill Ride, an animatronic diaroma depicting a prisoner being waterboarded, installed in the Coney Island arcade, presented by Creative Time as part of its national public art initiative Democracy in America: The National Campaign. The Waterboarding Thrill Ride, which will boldly raise awareness of the issue of torture in the United States, will be open all summer long and is available for public viewing. In mid-August, the artist will produce a private performance wherein he and several lawyers will be waterboarded by a trained professional in a secret location in the heart of Coney Island.

The Waterboard Thrill Ride will occupy a former photo booth on West 12th Street in Coney Island, redesigned to look like a jail cell. When a dollar is fed into a machine standing outside, viewers can peer through cell bars to see the waterboarding scene. “[In the process of waterboarding,] a person believes they are being killed,” John Sifton of Human Rights Watch has said, “and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law.” Powers hopes to use the inherent spectacle of Coney Island to broaden public awareness of and spark debate about a human rights issue that has received minimal weight in the public sphere.

“Humor has long been a strategy for speaking the unspeakable,” says Anne Pasternak, President and Artistic Director of Creative Time, “and it is vital that we as a nation begin a dialogue about the implications of waterboarding. There has been a critical shift in American ideology, where previously it was unthinkable that the United States would condone the practice of torture.”

Powers puts it more ironically: “It's about time that this uniquely American ritual of intense water horror, a practice long reserved for New England witches and Al-Qaida brass, was made available to the people,” he says. “This project will give some everyday New Yorkers the chance to experience—for a few brief, bone-chilling seconds—all the thrills of being a prisoner under interrogation at Guantanamo Bay. And the installation is fun for the whole family.”

In mid-August, Powers will produce a private performance in an undisclosed location in Coney Island, wherein he and several lawyers will volunteer to be waterboarded by a trained professional. “Is waterboarding torture? No, say the administration and the courts. Yes, say human rights activists,” Powers says. “Now actual waterboard riders will reveal, in their own words, exactly what a taste of death by water feels like.” Documentation from the performance will be featured on

The Waterboard Thrill Ride diorama will be reinstalled in the Democracy in America Convergence Center at the Park Avenue Armory from September 21 to 27.

Take the D/F or RN/Q to Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue. Take a left out of the station and follow Surf Avenue 1 block. Take a right on West 12thStreet. The Waterboard Thrill Ride will be on the right, halfway down the block.

View Photos of the Installation