The Big Yellow Duck has been on fire for 16 years, but it still has a secret

The Big Yellow Duck has returned to Victoria Harbour. Setting off from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 2007, the Big Yellow Duck has drifted on waters all over the world, visiting France, Sydney, Osaka, Seoul …… and, in 2013, Hong Kong. Ten years on, and in the 16th year since his round-the-world journey began, the Duck has returned to Hong Kong and brought along his traveling companion. It’s a blessing from creator Florentijn Hofman, a duck that turns into two, meaning double duck, double luck.

The idea of the double duck was inspired by the Chinese words “囍” and “朋”, and Florentijn Hofman believes that the world, after pandemics and wars, has come to the point of restoring its double luck. As in the case of the first exhibition in Hong Kong ten years ago, the historic Victoria Harbour was used as a bathtub for it. Visitors were pleasantly surprised to find that the 10,000-ton ships traveling on the water and the skyscrapers on the shore were transformed into toy models against the backdrop of the ducks. Although one of them soon leaks ……
It was a carefree moment shared by the whole city, with everyone back in the bathtub of their childhood. So much so, that a decade ago, the media introduced creator Florentijn Hofman in a warm and fuzzy tone, describing the giant installation artist from the Netherlands as a 36 year old father whose first order of business every morning was to get his three children off to school. These stories have earned Florentijn Hofman the title of “Father of the Giant Duck” because he sends the duck to Hong Kong like a child to school.

Ten years later, visiting Hong Kong again, the Big Yellow Duck “breaks” its own rules of appearance for the first time in the exhibition – not just staying on the water of Victoria Harbour, it appears in other parts of Hong Kong. This is the “Swimming Hong Kong Character” series launched in this exhibition, which aims to integrate the Big Yellow Duck into Hong Kong’s daily life and local culture. In addition, well-known landmarks and cultural imagery in the city have also become part of the Big Yellow Duck’s look, with a total of 24 dress-ups, 18 of which have already appeared in Hong Kong’s MTR stations.

This is a very clever trick, and in the past there have been a number of requests from event organizers or corporations to have the Big Yellow Duck appear outside of the water. 2009 saw the arrival of the Big Yellow Duck in the aquatic city of Osaka, and the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art in Kobe asked for a design for a duck that could be taken out of the water and placed on the roof of the museum. The museum was of course turned down, but they were given another huge animal installation, the Kobe Frog. It was 10 meters tall, just like the Big Yellow Duck that was exhibited in Osaka that year.
Apart from the fact that it had to remain on the water for the duration of the exhibition, the other rules of the show included that the Duck must always be on display to the public and that no commercial projects were to be involved. During its long journey of 16 years, many companies have made offers to have their brand names emblazoned on the duck. Without exception, these requests have been rejected, and even Harbour City Shopping Center, which sponsored the exhibition in Hong Kong in 2013, has not received a special mention.
In order to use the world’s waters as a bathtub, the rubber duck must be kept as simple as a rubber duck. Now defined as an aquatic installation that is “always open to the public,” in fact, during the first few years of its design there were no plans to exhibit it, or even to bring it down to earth based on the design drawings. It was the French Biennale that discovered the project on the artist’s personal website and invited the Duck to the exhibition site. This was the starting point of the Duck’s journey around the world. Although after 16 years together, viewers all over the world are quite familiar with this duck that “keeps it simple”, this well-known simple duck has more secrets than one can imagine.
Because he hates ducks, creator Florentijn Hofman has never used a bathtub ducky while taking a bath, but when it came time to place a giant contraption on the water, this duck came to mind. Despite Florentijn Hofman’s own dislike, the little yellow duck doesn’t discriminate or have political connotations; it’s soft, friendly and suitable for all ages. This quality is quite important – Florentijn Hofman doesn’t quite believe that art is eternal, and that many works of art end up in the hands of wealthy private collectors and investors, but he is a supporter of public art, and believes that art that appears in public spaces should be for everyone.

In addition, the idea of placing a giant installation on the water came about during a trip to a museum, where some Dutch landscapes made Florentijn Hofman think that the whole picture would be even more marvelous if the same everyday objects could appear between the dyke and the water. Since Florentijn Hofman had never used a bathtub duckling, he was unable to use his “favorite childhood duck” or “ducks he remembered” as prototypes for his design. After purchasing a number of ducks for comparison, Florentijn Hofman finally chose a duck designed by Tolo Toys, a Hong Kong-based company founded in 1985. The Tolo in the company’s name stands for Tolo Harbor in northern Hong Kong. This means that although the destination of the Duckling was Victoria Harbour on both trips to Hong Kong, Tolo Harbour is the Duckling’s “hometown”.
Although the phrase ‘Around the World’ makes it sound as if the Big Yellow Duck is literally drifting in and out of waters all over the world, the duck that actually appears in each city is not the same one, and is brand new each time. In addition to different event parties and organizations having different requirements for the size of the duck, the tides and currents of the waters vary from place to place. Each time Florentijn Hofman redesigns the ducks according to the conditions of the site in order to better control and help the ducks to stay on the water.
The current largest duck remains the 26-meter-tall Big Yellow Duck that appeared at the French Biennale in 2007, and while the 16.5-meter duck was only described as “Asia’s largest” when it was displayed at the Victoria Harbor in 2013, ten years later it has “grown” a little taller, to 18 meters, the same size as the one on display at the Summer Palace in Beijing. In addition, although the design is done by Florentijn Hofman himself, his studio will only send the drawings and data of the PVC pieces that make up the duck by e-mail to the partner, and the production and assembly of the duck must be done locally. That way, if anything happens, someone on site will know what to do.
Lam Shu-kam, Creative Director of AllRightsReserved, which organized the 2013 exhibition in Victoria Harbour, shared a small incident. When Hong Kong Shipyard Limited was commissioned to make the Big Yellow Duck, they were initially reluctant – even though the Big Yellow Duck is known as the “Giant Duck”, it was still too small a project compared to building a ship.
But after the project was completed, AllRightsReserved asked for a group photo, and the team and workers were very proud of their work. 2023, AllRightsReserved is still commissioning the Hong Kong Shipyard Company to build and transport the Duck, and the Shipyard’s work has even included getting permission to use the harbor for display. The PVC pieces that make up the duck are stitched together, meaning that the duck is not a “balloon” without air holes. If you look closely, you can clearly see the shape of the pieces and the stitching. The secret to keeping the balloon in shape is the air pumps and blowers that keep it inflated 24 hours a day. The power for these pumps is supplied by waterproof cables under the sea. In the case of the Hong Kong Duck, for example, it took three workers three weeks to stitch it together, four blowers worked continuously for half an hour to inflate it, and only 10 minutes to deflate it.
The hollow interior of the Duck is also accessible, with a zipper at the end being the entrance. Staff are required to enter daily for routine inspections, which include and are not limited to whether there are any damages on the duck’s surface and whether the inflatable pump, which operates non-stop, is functioning properly.
In both the Hong Kong exhibitions this year and in 2013, the Big Yellow Duck was deflated by staff on two occasions, turning it into a “flaky duck” lying on the surface of the sea, so to speak – this was due to the fact that the hot weather in Hong Kong caused the duck’s epidermis to become too taut and had to be deflated ahead of time to protect it. Rumors of an “exploding big yellow duck” have been circulating in both Hong Kong exhibitions, and some people have even reported hearing the sound of an explosion. Perhaps the explosion comment better conveys what most people are thinking – this place in Hong Kong is really hot and fried. Not as most people think, the Big Yellow Duck can float on water as lightly and freely as a duck in a bathtub. In fact, before it was inflated, it weighed a whopping 600 kilograms. The air pumped in by the blower is not enough to keep the duck afloat. It is the floating platform on the duck’s belly that really keeps it afloat. The platform on which the blower is placed and the “ground” on which the crew walks after entering are also this floating platform. At the same time, in order not to be blown away by the ocean currents and high winds, the bottom of the floating platform will be connected to three fixed stone piers, which together weigh 9 tons, and will make the big yellow duck obediently stay on the water.


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