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Performance artist takes 999 spins through Malta

Performance artist takes 999 spins through Malta

Aleister Mraz sees roundabouts as a sort of amusement park ride.
Performance artist takes 999 spins through Malta
Performance artists Aleister Mraz, of Halfmoon, driving around a roundabout 999 times in the town of Milton on Tuesday, August 19, 2014.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson

Depending on the driver, opinions on roundabouts generally waver between ambivalence and dread.

In an area of the town where seven roundabouts stretch along Route 67 from the Malta Farms Business Park to Dunning Street, mere talk of the traffic control device is likely to raise hackles.

“ ‘I [expletive] hate roundabouts,’ ” blurts out a desk clerk at Hyatt Place, a hotel built off the western-most circle. “That’s what a customer said to me the other day.”

But for some, there’s another side to roundabouts — a fun element that materializes when traveling around the same one for several rotations. Aleister Mraz sees them as a sort of amusement park ride.

Think of them as the Gravitron, a centrifuge-like ride that spins its occupants at high velocities. Only instead of traveling at breakneck speeds, navigate them at 15 mph.

And in a somewhat beat-up Saturn Ion. And 999 times in succession.

“It’s kind of an unexpected thing to do, to just go around it again — several times,” said Mraz, a senior technician at GlobalFoundries who doubles as a performance artist.

Shortly before rush hour Tuesday afternoon, Mraz piloted his Saturn to the roundabout leading onto the southbound entrance to the Northway at Exit 12. Once there, he guided the vehicle into the concentric circle closest to the median — the one where he had the legal right-of-way.

Then for several hours, he traveled around. And around again.

His goal was to video himself traveling the circle just shy of 1,000 times as a form of performance art. In part, he said, the exercise represented surrealist expression.

“That’s a very unusual and surreal thing to happen,” he said.

There are many other meanings too, he explained. For instance, traveling counterclockwise could be viewed as a metaphor for going back in time — turning back the clock.

There’s also the implication of wastefulness. Though he couldn’t pinpoint the exact distance he traveled in the roundabout, the travel burned through a good amount of the full tank of gas he put in the Saturn.

There were other more esoteric reasons. The Saturn, gifted to him by an ex-girlfriend, had a nickname called the “hell car” and the 999 revolutions, when looked at upside down, could represent the number of the beast or Satan from the New Testament.

Most of all, though, Mraz figured the exercise would be fun. Equipped with an Elliot Smith CD and joined for the short journey by friend Jaheem “KS” Hilts, he saw the activity as one of whimsy — an act that would get other motorists and any observers to ponder for a moment.

“It’s a sort of a childhood fantasy to say ‘Maybe it’d be fun just to keep going,’ ” he said.

Mraz gained some publicity last spring when he was seen tugging a gravestone from Lark Street in Albany to his home in Halfmoon. It was one of hundreds of artistic endeavors he’s undertaken in the Capital Region and Pennsylvania, where he lived before moving to the area nearly three years ago.

The original plan was to set up a camera on the rooftop of the Hyatt and film Mraz’s cyclical journey. But the first date about two weeks ago was canceled when the Saturn wouldn’t start and the cameraman didn’t show up.

On Tuesday, both the car and cameraman were on hand, but the hotel’s general manager had second thoughts about providing the rooftop vantage. The view from a consolation room offered on the fourth floor proved to be too low to record the roundabout, so Mraz instead set up the camera at street level.

He did a test drive in the roundabout and determined four revolutions would take about a minute. The full journey would last roughly four hours.

“I might be a little dizzy afterward,” he confessed.

“It’s going to make us feel like we’re in another world,” Hilts added.

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