Giant Rubber Duck

The Mystery of the Giant Rubber Duck

June 10, 2013 / by / 0 Comment

If you haven’t seen it, you must have heard of it. A giant yellow rubber duck has been afloat in our waters since May 2, and has just bid Hong Kong goodbye this Sunday night. For the past few weeks hundreds and thousands have gone to Harbour City to take a glimpse of the legendary duck and take photos with it. Throngs of people populated the exhibition area in front of the shopping mall, and even people on the Star Ferry are snapping away furiously as they approach the giant art installation. Selfies with the yellow rubber duck and pictures of people posing with the giant toy popped up ceaselessly on Facebook newsfeeds. A yellow, tiny little duck started featuring in everyone’s photos from Instagram, Facebook to Whatsapp display pictures. Suddenly, it seemed as if everyone had been acquainted with the duck.

As if this weren’t enough, businessmen have taken the opportunity to cash in on the rubber duck. From the tiniest newsstands on unnoticeable alleyways to the largest megastores in town, there are hints of the rubber duck’s existence. There are little rubber duck toys, rubber duck key chains, rubber duck t-shirts, and even special duck dishes prepared by restaurants for the occasion. Its presence is inescapable and certainly has taken the city by storm.

One might just wonder, though, what is it that gives the rubber duck such a strong hold over the Hong Kong people? To start answering this question, it is imperative that we first look at what the rubber duck actually is.

The giant rubber duck is an art installation created by the Dutch artist Florentijin Hofman. According to its official description found here, the rubber duck assumes a friendly, non-discriminatory persona who has “healing properties” – it is said to be able to “relieve mondial tensions” and is “suitable for all ages”. This inflatable duck has been on a world tour since 2007, and traversed 13 cities in numerous countries, including France, Brazil, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands. The duck is now well on its way across the Atlantic to the United States.

It might seem odd that one would associate a giant rubber duck with notions of non-discrimination, healing properties, and the relief of worldly tensions. But then, I do believe that the duck can be interpreted in various different ways – as an art form in itself, a token of our childhood days, or a symbol of world peace and happiness. When one looks at the rubber duck, one might be reminded of the carefree afternoons one used to spend lazing around in a bubble bath, with a rubber duck toy floating amidst the bubbles. The duck is a symbol of being deliciously idle all the time, for it merely floats on the water and lets the water take it anywhere it flows. It represents a carefree spirit, a world free of worries, a world ridden of all prejudices, hatred and disappointment, for the duck never disappoints (unless it deflates for some mysterious reason). The duck is always friendly and receptive and will also bounce up from the water should you try to push it beneath the surface.

If we go further with the analysis of the rubber duck, one might even go as far as to say that the duck, in refusing to sink beneath the bubbles, is representative of our resilient nature. And if we wish to be (more, if possible) clichéd about it, we might even go on to say that the duck represents a pillar of strength, a stubborn (albeit childish) resilience one displays when obstacles present themselves and get in our way (in our childhood days, such obstacles might manifest themselves in not being able to eat as many marshmallows as we want because our parents have stowed them away in the highest spot of the kitchen, which, with our pathetic lack of height, is the fatal blow to our quest for sweets).

There are also some people who think that the whole rubber duck project is overrated and that it doesn’t deserve the overwhelming response it has received from the media and Hong Kong citizens. The simultaneous arrival of the giant inflatable pile of poop by artist Paul McCarthy in West Kowloon has not helped – many have been forced to question nature of art itself. Cynics have been shaking their heads at the passion for the giant rubber duck displayed by Hong Kong citizens, with equal, if not more, distaste for the attention received by the inflatable poop installation. If we attach notions such as world peace and happiness to the giant rubber duck display, what, then, can be said about the oversized pile of poop? The ease we should have in facing the natural side of human beings (i.e. the biological necessity of human excretion), a reminder that we are all just animals after all, sharing the need to excrete as much as the pet dog we have at home?

Maybe I am stretching this a bit too far, but maybe that’s how art is supposed to be – open to interpretation. Do the duck and the pile of poop bring joy to citizens as many have claimed that to be the case? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Perhaps not to you, but that does seem to be the case for many. No one is forcing you to love the rubber duck, and we are certainly allowed to form our own opinions about the duck and the pile of poop, about whether they are real art or just a fad that has nothing substantial to back them up. No matter what your view is on the rubber duck, and whether it merits such an abundance of media attention, the fact that the duck is extremely popular and that it has captured the hearts of many cannot be denied, as evinced by the astounding number of people who have visited the duck.

Perhaps we should just sit back and enjoy the art installations that have been set up in our city. Just like love, some things are simply inexplicable. Who knows, one might actually love the giant poop installation for its aesthetic value…

P.S. It is worth mentioning that both the giant rubber duck art installation and the giant pile of inflatable poop deflated in Hong Kong during their exhibition. Perhaps this is a sign that Hong Kong is not art-friendly enough…but then if we look deeper into the meaning of things there will be a high chance for disappointment, just like how it is if we mull over the poop and duck art installations being genuine objects of art.