Artist sees project in most roundabout way
June 21, 2002
Two straight trips around Aspen’s roundabout means you’re lost.
More than 1,000 trips and you’re a work of art.
On Thursday, artist and Aspen Police Department Community Safety Officer Rick Magnuson rented a bright yellow Ryder Truck in Glenwood Springs and circled Aspen’s roundabout for six hours, an estimated 1,080 laps.
Magnuson’s three goldfish were along for the ride, and a small video camera captured the fish and the circular tour of Aspen’s only traffic circle over the hours.
“I’m shooting a movie about circles,” Magnuson said while making the continuous left turn. “I got the Ryder truck because I’d be moving around and around. This is a conceptual art piece about moving around and around in circles.”
Water from the goldfish bowl balanced on the dashboard sloshed to and fro during each lap, which measured two-tenths of a mile. He began the project at 9 a.m., halted from noon to 3 and then picked back up again until rush hour.
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At 10:30 a.m. the truck’s radio was playing Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty,” but the artist said, so far, the tank was actually only a quarter empty.
“Conceptual art isn’t rational – it doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t have to,” he said. “It’s just fun.”
Local commuters may not have found the truck’s continual presence quite as fun. Around 10 a.m. police began receiving “You’ll never believe this, but …” phone calls from both amazed and annoyed motorists.
But according to police (including Magnuson), the truck’s presence in the roundabout didn’t break any laws.
“It’s a public road, and as long as he’s not obstructing traffic, it’s OK,” said Assistant Chief of Police Richard Pryor. “But I hope he uses appropriate judgment and decides when enough is enough.”
“Even if I am getting in the way a little, it’s for a better cause,” Magnuson said at 10:30 a.m. “It’s worth holding up a few cars for art.”
That all changed around 5:15 p.m., when continual complaints from downvalley rush-hour traffic prompted police to request Magnuson to circle out of the way. Magnuson said he did stop, and then he returned around 6 p.m. and did several more laps for posterity.
“Some people just looked confused. They were putting their hands up and wondering what was going on,” he said. “I got followed around a few times, and some people where laughing. Others weren’t too pleased and I got flipped off. But any good performance art is going to offend somebody.”
Magnuson said he has about four hours worth of video footage that he will edit down into a short film. He said the day’s worth of circling accomplished a goal: making residents consider a different form of art.
“If 20 people were confused enough to call the police, it was successful to me,” he said. “I made them think about what’s art, and what’s not, and how it’s OK in our culture to drive in a circle if you’re going to work, but it’s not OK if you’re doing it for art. That’s a funny perspective.”