Terry Kahn

Artist & Programmer
I like to make jokes about technology.
Thesis Faculty
Kellee MasseyDan TaeyoungJessica MarshallAndrew Zornoza


The Elephant in the Bathroom is an interactive installation in which a toilet tries to solicit nudity from participants and gets excited if they comply.

It takes place inside a bathroom stall which houses a toilet connected to a screen. The screen displays a text chat and a camera feed – a simulation of an online room on a camming website (the application is not connected to the internet, all the text is prewritten and participants are not recorded). The participant finds themselves on camera as though they are the cam performer in this simulation. The toilet (whose username is ‘toilet_69’) and other users in the chat message the participant, asking how they are, complimenting their appearance and crudely encouraging them to lift their shirt to show their nude torso to the camera. They continue to do so until the participant either leaves or fulfills their requests. An obliging participant further excites and pleases the users on the chat – demonstrated by them responding more rapidly and eagerly, announcing their satisfaction, and tipping the participant. The participant’s compliance also triggers physical feedback created by the wiggling and swaying movement of a flexible pipe that protrudes from the toilet and snakes all the way up, hanging over the wall of the stall like a trunk. This secondary feedback alerts the audience outside of the stall that something has happened (and as to what has happened if they already know how it works).

This project was developed from an interest in the vast phenomenon that is the camming industry and its potential as a site for sexual exploration. Such exploration could help to further society away from harmful, outdated societal norms and regulative discourses that govern sex and pleasure, ultimately giving way to greater sexual autonomy. It speaks to the idea of bringing the ‘elephant’ – the representation of sex, into ‘the room’ – spaces that it has previously been barred from, to reduce the amount of sexual shame and stigma that still exists in daily life. The bathroom is a metaphor for a public space in which something private happens, much like on camming websites – which connect private bedrooms (where sex is allowed to happen) to a ‘public’ space on the internet. It also alludes to bathrooms as gay cruising sites as well as to the polemic debate around trans bathroom laws, both of which push up against harmful societal restrictions and outdated ideas. Having the toilet represent a person on a camming website recalls the toxic communities and behaviors that can be found and festered on the internet and in real life. It suggests that in this situation, where there is physical separation between the participant and the users of the chat, the participant is safer to explore and be sexually vulnerable, and has the agency to decide whether or not to participate at all (participants are informed of what will be asked of them before entering in case that influences their decision to enter, and it is made explicit that they are welcome to explore inside the stall without complying to the requests for nudity from the users). The playful and slightly absurd nature of the exhibit as well as the compliments and encouraging comments from the chat attempt to make the interaction fun, leaving users with a positive experience of vulnerability, despite the soft grooming by the toilet and other users. By creating a playful, safe space in which the participant has agency, the hope is to empower the participant, weakening the toilet’s ability to govern someone else’s sexuality. 

The ‘trunk’ is a phallic symbol and is functionally used here to tie the public and the private together, but also has references to glory holes and to the internet as a series of tubes. It uses machine learning technology that is traditionally used to censor nudity, in order to encourage it – protesting both censorship in general as well as the capitalistic culture that envelops the fast-growing industry of AI and the trend in the development of technology that fails to put societal and environmental impact at the forefront of its design. From Michael Warner’s, The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics and the Ethics of Queer Life (1999): “If sex is a kind of indignity, then we’re all in it together. And the paradoxical result is that only when this indignity of sex is spread around the room, leaving no one out, and in fact binding people together, that it begins to resemble the dignity of the human.”