Tucson Oddity: Lighted 'Desert O' downtown provides new angle on round

It could be a doughnut or strange inner tube. But then again, "Desert O," near City Hall, means whatever the viewer wants it to.

Many inventions that keep us going are based on the circle - things such as wheels, gears … even doughnuts.

The circle is an organic shape. We see it in the sky, on our bodies, in our gardens - pretty much everywhere we look.

So it seems natural to create art inspired by the infinitely curved shape.

Joseph O'Connell did just that when he put together "Desert O," a public art piece on West Alameda Street between El Presidio Park and the Tucson Museum of Art.

Desert O is a translucent ring, 6 feet in diameter with a steel skeleton inside, that can be seen both day and night.

Every night of the week the ring radiates a distinct pattern of colored lights that circle slowly inside the sculpture. It is covered with frosted acrylic panels that make it glow brightly.

There's even a secret button that allows visitors to change the colors themselves.

The piece was originally created for the Luminarias del Pueblo fundraising auction in April 2005.

The artist said there were many "wonderful, lighted, solar-powered sculptures at that auction, but they were selling at unusually low prices."

O'Connell wanted to ensure that the sculpture would be displayed publicly, for people to interact with.

"Without knowing what I would ultimately do with it, I bought Desert O myself for $3,500."

He asked the city of Tucson if it would be interested in accepting the sculpture as a donation. Once the city said yes, it chose the location.

"So the city paid nothing, and I was able to donate it with a good heart."

Colors and shapes mean different things to different people.

When selecting the colors of the lights, O'Connell was aiming for "a peaceful, wise, somewhat mysterious feeling."

As for the sculpture's circular shape, O'Connell said: "To some it might stand for cyclic return, self-sufficiency, continuous motions or holistic peace. … There is no one interpretation I am after.

"Tucson just doesn't have enough round, peaceful-looking objects."

Got an oddity?

Is there something you've noticed while driving through Tucson that has piqued your curiosity? Or is there some piece of Old Pueblo history you've wondered about? Drop us a line, and we'll look into it.

Contact the Star newsroom at oddity@azstarnet.com or 807-7776.

Contact Angela Pittenger at apitteng@azstarnet.com or 573-4203.