Arts & Culture
3:25 pm
Wed September 25, 2013

Giant Rubber Duck Poised to 'Change Pittsburgh for a Bit'

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has been handing out miniature rubber ducks in anticipation of the Rubber Duck Project. The giant duck will make its first American appearance on Pittsburgh's waterways Friday.
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has been handing out miniature rubber ducks in anticipation of the Rubber Duck Project. The giant duck will make its first American appearance on Pittsburgh's waterways Friday.
Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

A giant, floating rubber duck will temporarily change the Pittsburgh skyline this weekend as the American debut of the Rubber Duck Project kicks off the Pittsburgh Festival of Firsts.

In the meantime, one is reminded of the question asked by Arthur Weasley in the movie "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:" "What exactly is the function of a rubber duck?”

Many would say its function is a child’s bath toy, but to others, it’s art.

The small floating ducky has been adapted by Netherlands artist Florentijn Hofman into a giant, inflatable duck which he floats on waterways around the world as the Rubber Duck Project.

As an art installation many are asking the same question – what does it mean? Hofman answers, “Well what does it mean for you?”

Hofman has been working on the Rubber Duck Project for 12 years. In that time he has had many thoughts about it and what it means, and explained one early thought that came to him in 2001.

“We are living on one planet, and all the waters in the world become our global bathtub, so we are one family where we have to take care of each other of this bathtub of the rubber duck,” Hofman said.

Rubber Duck Project artist Florentijn Hofman said the art installation will change Pittsburgh for a bit.
Rubber Duck Project artist Florentijn Hofman said the art installation will change Pittsburgh for a bit.
Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The website for the installation states the Rubber Duck knows no frontiers, does not discriminate and does not have any political connotations. It also states that the friendly, floating Rubber Duck has "healing properties."

“It joins people together, it connects and it makes people happy,” Hofman said. “Apart from this it reminds you of your childhood maybe.”

The four-story-high, three-story wide duck has been in many locations throughout the world, including China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil. Hofman, speaking with media Wednesday, was asked why Pittsburgh was chosen for its American debut.

“I got asked by Pittsburgh to bring it here,” he said. “I was asked by Sidney, Sao Paulo, Taiwan, people ask for it and we see if it’s a good place.”

What makes a good place? Hofman has three set rules for the project: “It has to be on water, it’s open for general public and no commercial banners, so it has to be an artwork.”

The arrival of the duck on the Allegheny River did require some logistical maneuvering. Its height will allow it to fit under the Fort Duquesne Bridge, but it won’t be going under other bridges. The artist’s duck design is always the same, the duck itself isn’t.

“Every city builds their own duck,” said Paul Organisak, vice president of the Cultural Trust. “It’s not like we’re getting a duck from Hong Kong or any of the other cities. The duck was fabricated in Ohio with an inflatable company there, and the pontoon structure was made in Newcastle.”

The duck will be on the river for about three weeks. The public is asked to stay at least 20 feet from the duck, and it will have 24/7 security.

The Rubber Duck Project launches on Friday afternoon with a party on the Roberto Clemente Bridge. It will be pulled by a tugboat and taken to its final nesting spot at the Point. The Pittsburgh Festival of Firsts, which includes premiers of theater, dance, music, performance and visual arts will run through Oct. 26.

The duck has been a huge hit in the cities it’s visited, and Pittsburgh has been eagerly anticipating its arrival. While it remains to be seen if the Rubber Duck Project will be all it’s quacked up to be, Hofman is confident it will be.

“The Rubber Duck, I will tell you, will change Pittsburgh for a bit,” he said. “It will change the river, and I hope you can see and feel that.”