As the hosts from Harbour City, Hong Kong, take this writer through a maze of shortcuts into the VIP corner, she cannot help but notice the size of the crowd that has gathered to get the first view of Duck Duck, a 12-metre high inflated rubber duck that will make its entry into Victoria Harbour of the South China Sea in Hong Kong. At least five thousand people, armed with their smartphones — are waiting to welcome the ‘yellow joy’ as Dutch conceptual artiste Florentijn Hofman lovingly calls his creation.
The Rubber Duck Project was conceived 12 years ago as an initiative to spread joy around the world. Hofman, then a new father, found himself on his knees bending over to pick up toys after his kids had finished their day’s play. “One day, I saw the rubber duck on their bathtub from a different perspective and decided to incorporate it in my work. So, I placed the rubber duck in an urban environment to see the joy it brought to the adults,” says Hofman, who believes Duck Duck is a catalyst that will make people take time out from their crazy schedules and walk into public spaces.
Fast forward to the scene at the Victoria Harbour where the track the DJ is playing — Itzy, Bitzy, Teeny Weeny, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini — creates a delightful anxiety among the 5,000-odd people waiting to lay their eyes on the Duck Duck. As the music fades, The Hong Kong Police Band blows the trumpet as if announcing the entry of Duck Duck into the choppy waters, that seem excited at the thought of bringing in a larger-than-life rubber artwork. From behind a star-cruise liner, a red beak appears, enlarging as the distance shortens. At 20 feet away, the Duck Duck still looks very big. “Duck Duck has a global bathtub, and it has been created to stop traffic, break the routine and pass a happy message. The energy that art in a public space can create is awesome.
It brings people together and taps positive emotions and ideas,” says Hofman, whose face has turned a proud hue of an oleander petal.
As the crowd lets out a huge cry, and a firework of camera flashes occur, the Duck Duck is drawn by two boats, whose team members are continuously monitoring the wind speed and pressure to keep the artwork from toppling over or even deflating. “It takes 20 to 30 minutes to inflate the duck,” Hofman tells the writer, adding that he won’t hesitate deflating his beloved Duck Duck in case of bad weather. “A sleeping duck is better than a crying one,” he jokes, admitting that the wind corridor of the South China Sea was a challenge. Next, the Duck Duck will sail to the US in September after which it is due to visit the Middle East. “I would love to come to India,” says Hofman, “but I would need the government to invite me,” he adds. Ask Hofman about how it feels to see the public react to the rubber duck, and he answers excitedly, “It is the most amazing feeling. Twelve years ago, I stuck stickers on the world map, and today, the project has visited several places I had marked. The duck should remind them of the childhood they saw, which was without any pressure, full of mirth and play.”
The writer was invited by Harbour City to attend the inauguration of the Rubber Duck Project