People are upset about the Aspen Art Museum’s exhibit Moving Ghost Town, where artist Cal Guo-Qiang has affixed iPads atop tortoises and sent them out to record video footage of ghost towns. The tortoises are then left milling about the museum courtyard displaying the resulting footage on these same shell-mounted iPads.
Some are saying it blurs the line between art and exploitation. Others are even quick to cry “abuse.” Thought this is technically an opinion column, a conflict of interest prevents me from weighing in: Some of my best friends move at a comparable pace and/or have remarkably similar diets to tortoises.
But have you considered this: It could have been a whole lot worse.
An anonymous and wholly unreliable source has sent me a copy of the artist’s personal notebook, which features some other ideas being considered for the museum’s opening, and well, we should be glad he eventually settled on the turtle thing.
Aspen Art Museum Opening — Brainstorming Notes:
A Sony point and shoot is inserted into the esophagus of a giraffe. It’s set to take one (flash) picture every 10 minutes. The resulting images are then compiled into a stop-motion-animation film. The soundtrack will be the noise made as this notoriously silent creature attempts to hack a camera from its throat. Title idea: “Outside of a Giraffe, a Book is a Man’s Best Friend. Inside a Giraffe it’s Too Dark to Write a Grant.” Just spitballing here …
An ARRI Alexa XT Studio camera is affixed to the head of a gopher using a cranial-screwed “halo.” The gopher will be allowed (forced, whatever) to wander around a typical suburban mall for one month. The footage shot will then be projected from the back of the same gopher using a vintage 35mm movie-theater projector secured via spine-grafted tripod. In the event that the original gopher is crushed by the weight of the camera (likely — these cameras are about 23 pounds), we’ll just use a different gopher for the projection part. Gophers are everywhere in Colorado, I’ve heard, and they look very similar to each other. Also, artistic license. (Note: “Caddyshack” theme song, too obvious? Or so obvious that using it would not be obvious? Art is cool!)
Steadicam is mounted to a bully in a rural public school system. Bully is given carte blanche to go about his typical daily bullying routine. Also, the meaning of “carte blanche” is explained to him. Slow-motion footage of the faces of tormented kids is then projected onto the side of a local YMCA. Title idea: “Moving Wuss Town.” (Does Aspen have a YMCA? Have assistant fact-check.)
Using early-term cesarean, mount a GoPro to the skull of a human fetus and capture the entire POV gestation period. As the baby exits the birth canal, you see me standing behind the hospital staff holding a sign that says, “Cut! Your performance was flat. One more take, this time like you mean it.” This piece will address our basic human need for perfection and tendency toward constant self-criticism. (Might need to take extra care that the camera headgear isn’t too tight so as to allow room for infant’s head to grow. No need to upset a bunch of right-to-lifer fruitcakes.)
Randomly selected monkey is fitted with a ball and chain roughly twice its body weight. Film this monkey as it attempts, with predictably limited success, to go about its usual “swinging through jungle gathering food and avoiding predators” business. Project footage on a large, “distressed” brick wall while other monkeys stand around viewing it. (Note — These monkeys will have been trained — under the watchful eye of animal-rights groups that don’t want their funding threatened by people who can afford to invest in art museums — to discuss the film while eating cheese cubes.)
The left eye of a bull is replaced with a compact camera and fisheye lens. The bull is released at an art opening during a special “Wear Something Red, Get in Free” event. Footage is recovered from bull-cam, and political prisoners are forced to watch it and are filmed while doing so. That film is shown as a mandatory in-flight movie on all Virgin Airlines trans-Atlantic flights for a month, with each passenger’s reactions being filmed by a hidden camera. These thousands of hours of footage will be edited down to four minutes, seven seconds and set to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” It’s uploaded to YouTube, where every U.S. citizen is required by law to watch it in its entirety, click “like” and share on a minimum of five social-media sites. Penalty for noncompliance will include jail time, a hefty fine and inclusion in my next project.
A kitten is decapitated, and an iPhone 5c is duct taped to the space previously occupied by its head. Make sure we get a stamp of approval from the Kitten Conservancy to appease naysayers. I do a pre-exhibit news conference via this kitten-iPhone using Facetime. So it looks like my head is actually the kitten’s head! I know, I know, pretty clever. Probably best to pre-screen questions, though, as there are a lot of people out there who don’t understand art.
Barry Smith’s column appears Mondays.
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