Three-Channel Video Installation Mock-Up (Featuring Video Still Images from the Third Movement)

Joshua Watson’s Leg (In Four Movements) is a three-channel video installation accompanied by an assortment of pseudo-historical objects and a handbound sculptural book (w/ embedded digital screen).  The project is based off of an authentic 18th century handwritten note that was found in a bin of scrap paper at a traditional bookbindery in 2015.

The artwork is intended to be shown as a large-scale exhibition with faux artifacts.  Viewers will recognize the items within the three-channel video as the additional components in the exhibition. By incorporating antiquated objects and relics from the video, and presenting them in a museum-like manner, the aim is to challenge the audience’s perception of history and what can be percieved as fact, versus the illusary narrative produced by the artist.

Joshua Watson’s Leg (In Four Movements), 2021
Three-channel HD Video | 23’45”
(In Four-Part Symphonic Form)

Bruce Stens as Joshua Watson
Richard Smart as Henry Newburn
Sherry Duggal as Malin Sorsbie

Structured as a four-part symphony, Joshua Watson’s Leg (In Four Movements), follows the pseudo-historical account of a grave accident resulting in the eventual anthropodermic binding of a disturbing “coroner’s report”. Bookbinder, Henry Newburn, comes across the body of Joshua Watson in the woods. Keeping time, Newburn drags the corpse back to his nearby workshop.

Bindery apprentice, Malin Sorsbie, prepares the body for the tanning process, while subtly tucking away a fractured shard of bone in her apron.  As Henry methodically binds a leather book out of Joshua Watson’s skin, a process known as anthropodermic bibliopegy, Malin practices her calligraphy skills on scraps of paper.

Narrative Synopsis (Broken Down by Movement)
BPM = Beats per Minute

I.  The Accident | Allegro - 120 BPM | Sonata Form

Joshua Watson’s leg had been badly broken in the accident. A sharp bone pierced his skin, and he bled out over the course of many hours...

Foraging in the local woods, bookbinder, Henry Newburn, comes across the body of Joshua Watson at the bottom of a ravine. A workable leather specimen, the craftsman carefully procures his find, dragging the cadaver through the brush to his nearby workshop.

II.  The Resurrection | Adagio - 66 BPM | Slowly, with Great Expression

Upon arrival, the awaiting apprentice, Malin Sorsbie, patiently assists Newburn in preparing the corpse for the tanning process.  Malin nurtures Joshua Watson’s remains, delicately washing his lifeless body.

III.  The Undertaker’s Minuet | Andante - 88 BPM | Three-Quarter Time

The dance begins in a damp, candlelit workshop. Henry Newburn strikes a match, illuminating his face as he stokes his pipe. The dried tobacco leaves gently crackle into frail embers. The air is rancid and sweet, as thick drags of dry smoke mingle with humidity.

IV.  Joshua’s Requiem | Varying Tempos| Sonata Rondo Form (Finale)

Henry’s hands are fermenting. He waits for his partner, Joshua, whose skin is taut on a frame. Rising from his arthritic chair, he tends to his companion with earnest measurement. The wet coolness has left the hide. Placing the leather on a thick paring stone, Henry strops his knife and pushes his weight into the hide. Thin slivers of velvety suede fall to the side of the stone, as Henry brushes them away and diligently works the skin into a delicate tissue, so thin that you can almost see through it.

... Malin and Joshua join in the rollicking finale of Joshua Watson’s Leg.