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In "Moving Ghost Town", iPads are mounted to the shells of tortoisesCourtesy of Cai Guo-Qiang

Protests erupt over iPad-mounted tortoise art

Cai Guo-Qiang's live installation for the Aspen Art Museum has not gone down well with animal lovers

How's this for bad opening day PR? Colorado's newly-built Aspen Art Museum has waded into an animal rights controversy with one of its inaugural exhibitions, Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang's "Moving Ghost Town". For the installation, Cai fitted and mounted three desert tortoises with working iPads. Obviously, animal lovers are not too pleased. 

A petition to cancel "Moving Ghost Town" has already drawn over 3,000 signatures. "Since when is animal abuse art?" it declares, before calling on the Aspen Art Museum to stop the "unnecessary exploitation of animals". 

According to a spokesperson for the museum, the exhibit was created with the help of a local veterinarian and the Turtle Conservancy. Exhibition notes stress that "the iPad adds negligible weight for the tortoise to support: their thick, sturdy legs accommodate their own weight and, during mating, upwards of 150 extra pounds". 

This hasn't placated animal lovers like Aspen native Lisabeth Odén, who created the online petition. "These creatures were not designed to carry 2-pound iPads,” she told the Aspen Daily News. “I can see them doing this in some rural town in some third-world country, but not here.”

Cai envisions "Moving Ghost Town" as an exploration of Colorado's abandoned ghost towns from the perspective of the tortoises. The artist had previously set the three African Sulcata tortoises loose in the wild with video cameras before transporting them to their temporary enclosure in the Aspen Art Museum. The iPads mounted on each shell display the footage filmed by each tortoise.

So what do you think – is "Moving Ghost Town" animal abuse in action?