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Turtles carrying iPads for art museum raises activist response online

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Aspen Art Museum

The opening of Colorado's Aspen Art Museum might have been a cause for local art lovers to celebrate over the weekend, if it weren't for one controversial exhibit that has many residents and animal rights activists already upset with it. For an exhibition titled "Moving Ghost Town," artist Cai Guo-Qiang has strapped two iPads each to the back of three tortoises, which wander around an enclosed area while the tablets display video footage — ostensibly taken by tortoises themselves — of nearby ghost towns. Activists are concerned that the iPads are harming the turtles.

"We must all rise and stop this now!!"

Calling the exhibition "animal exploitation and abuse," over 5,300 people have now signed a Change.org petition requesting that the iPads are removed and that the tortoises are returned to a sanctuary. "The tortoises that you have in your new display in the new Aspen Art Museum have had iPads attached to their shells and must endure the weight of two iPads on their back as they walk around showing slides of old Aspen in the name of art," petition founder Lisbeth Oden writes. "Since when is animal abuse art? We must all rise and stop this now!! There is no excuse for this!"

The museum responded in length to the uproar over the exhibit even before it ever officially opened, calling the iPads "negligible weight" for the turtles and saying that the tablets are mounted with a technique used by researchers studying tortoises in the wild. "It is the most benign method to track animals in the wild," the museum writes. The museum also says that it is working with a local veterinarian and the Turtle Conservancy to properly care for the tortoises.

So far the activists' petitioning doesn't appear to have gotten them far. Even the Turtle Conservancy appears to be passively in support of the exhibit, noting that it doesn't believe the iPads are harming the turtles. It also sees the installation as raising awareness of the issue with keeping African Spurred tortoises as pets because of their large size. The tortoises in the exhibition are all said to have been abandoned pets, and the conservancy hopes that the exhibition will make people recognize just how difficult it can be to care for one. The conservancy is particularly concerned about the public's image of tortoises as pets as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie hits theaters.

Cai's "Moving Ghost Town" opened with the museum on Saturday and is scheduled to run through October 5th.