I'm reminded of this exhibit because I've been spending a lot of time listening to Alexander von Meilenwald's project the Ruins of Beverast, specifically his album "Blood Vaults: The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer". The entire piece is a concept based around Kramer's contributions to the Malleus Maleficarum (loosely translated to the Hammer of [the] Witches) which was the Catholic church's 1487 treatise on detecting, interrogating, and ultimately torturing witches. A book that itself conceived of several methods of torture and alone blights a large portion of Catholic history.
Of course, most of the implements all share their roots of initially being circulated into use centuries ago, some predating the Dark Ages, going back as far as the Bronze Age. Every device itself is terrible and gruesome, a sadistic representation of humanity's boundless creativity when it comes to invention and cruelty. Of course, to display every known device of torture would make for a HUGE exhibit, but there is a plethora there, from items we are exceptionally familiar with either through movies, history books, or happenstance to items that are more obscure in nature that lack the prevalence of the Iron Maiden or guillotine.
Strappado, for instance, which is more of a method than a device really requiring only rope. Water torture, flagellation, the Tiger Bench, and German Chair (conceived by the Stasi in which the victim is pulled backwards while seated until flesh and sinew tear and spine snaps) are all still widely in use in countries around the world. While it's disheartening to consider the great achievements of humanity contrasted against the unfathomable cruelty which we're capable of inflicting upon each other, it does propagate conversation at the very least.
It's a dialog that I think is absolutely necessary during our current age. Enlightened as some of us may be, as a species we are not infallible. We have a long history of attacking each other, oppression, unnecessary castigation, torment, debauchery, and debasement that can't historically be ignored. To deny that would be to sweep instances such as Abu Ghraib under the rug. It would be denying the countless human rights violations in the Sudan, Burma, or Chinese mainland. It would be taking away the voices of the millions of people that have been victims of modern torture, not to mention belittle the tortures wrought historically upon the innocents of bygone eras.
Judas Cradle or death by sawing, which is as horrible as it sounds. Even more interesting is the idea that most tortures were not designed as elaborate death sentences, but rather a continuous means of punishment. Many, in fact by their very design, are meant to stave death while still visiting anguish upon the victim.
I would absolutely recommend you see this exhibit if you find yourself in the San Diego area, but bear in mind that it's not a fun display. While there are plenty of curiosities the majority of the exhibit has been put together expressly to encourage political and ideological discourse and conversation. If it causes repulsion or horror it's doing exactly what the curators have intended. It is an unflinching look at the pompous cruelty that humans are capable of inflicting and saying "Look, this is something we can fix, but we need to admit it's still a problem first". If you go and find yourself overwhelmed after, then make sure to go across the way to the main building for the BEERology display. It is a lot more fun. Alone, Instruments of Torture is a grim reminder of mankind's torrid obsession with pain and death.
|photos from http://www.museumofman.org|