Animal Welfare

Photo of the Day: iPads on Tortoises Because “Art” (& My Response to the Artist Statement)

Photo by Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post

Photo by Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post

The Aspen Art Museum currently has an installation piece called, “Moving Ghost Town,” in which three African tortoises walk around an enclosed area with iPads glued to their shells. Playing on the iPads are photographs that the tortoises “took” while walking around Colorado. The tortoises are allegedly “rescued” from a breeder, and will be given to a sanctuary in October, when they are no longer needed for the art piece.

I find the “art” problematic. I don’t find any good reason why a tortoise should be forced to carry an iPad on his or her back. The artist statement doesn’t reveal anything:

“Drawing upon Eastern philosophy and contemporary social issues as a conceptual basis, Cai Guo-Qiang’s work creates a direct exchange between viewers and the larger universe around them cultivating a site-specific approach to culture and history. For Moving Ghost Town, Guo-Qiang has created an environment where three African Sulcata tortoises roam freely on a section of natural turf similar to local grasslands. With iPads mounted to their backs, the tortoises feature video footage of three local ghost towns, which were filmed by the creatures themselves. Forgotten stories of the once prosperous ghost towns are retold from the tortoises’ perspective.”

Blah blah blah. What Eastern philosophy? What contemporary social issues? What does the perspective of an African tortoise add to a conversation about Colorado’s history? Sounds like a bunch of poppycock.

Here’s my version of the artist statement:

Drawing from contemporary, mainstream culture which promotes the use of animals for entertainment, Cai Guo-Qian’s work creates yet another imbalanced relationship between humans and the animals around them, where human interests once again outweigh the interests of the animal, cultivating a speciesist approach to art and entertainment. For Moving Ghost Town, Quo-Qiang has created an unnecessary and cruel environment that animals are forced into, further promoting the idea that animals are ours to be used. Three African Sulcata tortoises, who normally would never have wandered from Africa to Aspen on their own, are forced into a small enclosure where they can’t do anything except walk back and forth all day. With iPads mounted to their backs, the tortoises are not able to burrow or receive proper shade. The iPads feature video footage of three local ghost towns, which were filmed by the creatures themselves because we thought it would be cool to make them walk around and do this for us. Forgotten stories of the once prosperous ghost towns are retold from the tortoises’ perspective, but not really because if we actually took the perspective of the tortoise into consideration in the first place, we would not have forced them into this situation. Also, no one actually gives a crap about the photographs because you can’t even see the screens.

The “art” was immediately denounced by the public. Aspen Art Museum took to Facebook and posted a justification, which you can read here. You’ll see that the Museum pretends about halfway down that they care about educating the public about the tortoises, and yet the Museum doesn’t clarify how they “rescued” the tortoises from the breeder. Ultimately, they are promoting the animals as basically nothing more than art supplies, which goes against their “justification” that they are trying to raise awareness. Please voice your displeasure at the Museum in the comment section of the post — we need more voices speaking out.

Sign the petition to take the iPads off the tortoises here.

3 replies »

  1. Hi Rae,
    I saw this photo recently and could not believe my eyes. Once again, livings are being seen and treated as objects. If the museum bows to pressure and decides to remove the I Pads, will they be able to do so without physically harming these beings?
    Many thanks,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s