Dutch conceptual artist Florentijn Hofman brings his symbol of unfettered joys to Hong Kong

On the Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, a yellow carpet is spread out to welcome a symbol of hope. No, we are not talking about a Hollywood celebrity or a political figure. It is just a rubber duck swimming across the waterfront to find an anchor at the Ocean Terminal. No, it can’t be described as just! The 54 feet tall seems like a specimen of inflated hopes sending the cheering shoppers and media persons lined up outside the Harbour City, which commissioned the project, to have a close look at the rubber installation, into a tizzy.

After a band salutes the yellow creature and the children welcome arrival of the toy of joy bursting out of their bathtub, Florentijn Hofman, the papa of the duck, as he is famously called, takes stage. The Dutch installation artist looks no less than a star but once the glamorous bit of the event is over, Hofman is ready to share the spirit behind the project and the air that goes into it.

“Conceptualised in 2007, Rubber Duck epitomises a time of life when you don’t feel any kind of pressure — economic pressure, pressures about your house, work and family. It is about the time of life when you can go and play.” He says there is more to life than shopping, eating and hobnobbing with nature. “There is also art in public space which gives you some thoughts about life. Through the duck I want to spread the message that all the water in the world is our bathtub.”

Would he like to take it to North Korea or say Arabian Sea? “Why not? The Duck is not meant only for happy places,” he is prompt. “I want to take it to the Ganges to show the people the weakness or strength of the river. I think it is a great catalyst. It could show wealth in a shopping mall where people are spending their money but it could also show the skyline of a healthy city or a rotten city. It could show a dirty river or a very clean river, an oil spill or a melting of the polar cap. I just need somebody to commission me,” says Hofman, who is going to take the duck to Azerbaijan later this year.

Hofman loves to work with abstracted shapes of animals and has already worked with rabbit, frog, crow and many more. “As a father when I used to pick the toys of my kids from the ground I could see the world from the point of view of the toys and it gave me the idea to use huge installations of toys to make an impact.” Hofman advises not to pass by the buildings everyday as a matter of routine. “Pass by your environment and look what changes we can bring in to make it a better place. You need to communicate with your surroundings.”

As for the logistics, three concrete anchors are needed to hold the duck steady in the waters. “Air pumps inside the duck work round the clock to ensure that it holds its shape,” says the artist. “And when the wind speed is high the duck sleeps. It takes 20-30 minutes to inflate it,” adds Hofman. (In fact it developed some snag at Hong Kong and had to be deflated for some time but now it is back on the waterfront and will stay till June 9.)

Meanwhile, photographers are busy shooting the duck with the skyline of Hong Kong with many a skyscraper losing their vertical advantage behind the Duck. The cruise ship parked next to it suddenly pales in comparison and within an hour the street to the Harbour City mall is full of miniature rubber ducks with kids and their parents posing for posterity.

(The journalist was in Hong Kong at the invitation of Harbour City)