Kafka’s Torture Machine IRL

07.17.12 Marina Galperina

This is the Harrow, a torture/execution device conceived by Franza Kafka for In the Penal Colony, 1919. For condemned aren’t told their charges, naturally. They’re strapped into the machine for twelve hours as the needles inscribe their crime, burrowing deeper and deeper into their flesh in indiscernible script. By the time the sixth hours rolls around, the “criminal” reaches “ecstatic epiphany,” intuitively coming to understand their crime. Then, they die. Oh, Kafka.

So here’s the Harrow IRL. It was originally created for an exhibition at the Kunsthalle Bern in 1975. The exhibition riffed off Michel Carroughe’s essay “The Bachelor Machines,” which tied the torture device to some others by fancied in fiction and art by Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne and Marcel Duchamp.

It’s an impressive machine. Kunsthalle Bern curator Harald Szeemann wants you to recognize what the machines stand for — “the omnipotence of eroticism and its negation, for death and immortality, for torture and Disneyland, for fall and resurrection.” So, it’s ok if all those straps and bolts got you a little tingly too. ‘Cause coming and dying–same thing. Deep.

ANIMAL found this beauty on view at the New Museum’s excellent new exhibit, “Ghosts in the Machine” open 7/18/12 – 9/30/12. Go.

(Photos: Marina Galperina/ANIMALNewYork)