Rub-a-dub-dub, there are too many ducks in the tub. Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman says the aim of his giant Rubber Duck art installation is to spread joy. However, the giant yellow inflatable has sparked an unseemly battle of the cities that could leave Taiwan feeling flatter than a dish of pressed duck.
Hofman said 23 cities and organizations from Taiwan contacted him after a 16.5m tall version of his duck created a frenzy in Hong Kong in May, along with scores of other requests from around the world. Keelung’s announcement last month that it had reached an agreement to have a specially created Hofman duck docked in its harbor from mid-December to late January was trumped on Monday by Greater Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu’s (陳菊) signing of a contract with Hofman to have a duck in her city from Sept. 19 to Oct. 20.
Chen said the duck, based on what happened in Hong Kong, was expected to attract 3 million tourists to her city, who would bring in about NT$1 billion (US$33.3 million). Those would appear to be numbers as inflatable as the PVC duck they are based upon. Will 3 million people in Taiwan really crowd to Glory Pier to see a massive bathtub toy when they can see another one at the end of the year? Not to mention that Taoyuan County is also relying on a duck for its Taoyuan Land Art Festival from Oct. 26 to Nov. 10, and Greater Taichung has high hopes for one as well.
Kaohsiung and Keelung should not count on attracting hordes of Chinese travelers desperate for a photograph with a giant anatid. The lure of the duck for the Chinese will probably be tempered by the fact that Hofman has announced that China will be getting its own Beijing duck on Sept. 16. One is also in the works for Chongqing, according to the artist’s Facebook page.
The claims that Kaohsiung and Keelung will be getting custom-made ducks, albeit 1.5m taller than the one that graced Victoria Harbour, is just public relations fluff. Part of Hofman’s contract is that each duck be produced locally, along with the stipulation that it must always be on water and that it cannot be commercialized. That might prove problematic for the corporations that Chen said she is planning to hit up to cover the duck’s bill. Most companies that help fund artistic endeavors want their name plastered around to make sure everyone knows. Harbour City, the Hong Kong shopping mall that spent several hundred thousand Hong Kong dollars to host the duck, got around that restriction by simply having the duck anchored outside one of its entrances.
The real problem in this not-so-quiet, desperate search for a financial catalyst on the part of Kaohsiung, Keelung and others that lies behind their craving for duck is the poor state of Taiwan’s economy, and the government’s reliance on the idea that tourism can provide a quick and easy answer to anything that ails a local community.
There is also a stunning lack of creative and innovative thinking on the part of officials and bureaucrats that leads to the “me too-ism” seen in the drive to capture a duck. It is easier to copy someone else’s idea than develop one on your own. This, of course, has happened in the corporate world as well — think of all the firms that jumped into semiconductors only to create a glut — or the coffee shops that have inundated Taiwan over the past decade or how LOHAS has been hijacked by all sorts of businesses.
Hofman’s environmental message — that the world’s waterways are a global bathtub and people need to be as responsible about the planet as they are about their own homes and baths — has already been lost, sunk under the duck’s kawaii appeal. It is time to pull the plug on this mania.
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