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[Newsmaker] Rubber duck enthralls despite Lotte debate

A giant yellow rubber duck sitting on Seoul’s Seokchon Lake has captured the hearts and minds of thousands of South Koreans, while carrying the hopes of a local retail giant trying to dampen public fears over a controversial construction project in a posh Seoul neighborhood.

Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s rubber duck, weighing seven tons with a concrete anchor and pontoon that supports it, arrived at the Seoul lake last week in time for the opening of Lotte World Mall, a disputed high-rise developed by Lotte.

In addition to its familiarity as a bath time toy and its gigantic size, which makes it hard not to notice, the art installation has garnered public attention for its Lotte affiliation.
Rubber Duck, a gigantic sculpture designed by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, floats on Seokchon Lake in southern Seoul. (Yonhap)
Rubber Duck, a gigantic sculpture designed by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, floats on Seokchon Lake in southern Seoul. (Yonhap)

Critics charge that the conglomerate invited the public art project to Seokchon Lake, which faces Lotte World Mall, to mitigate public unease over the new shopping complex.

While no clear link has been confirmed, the appearance of sink holes and a fall in the lake’s water level have spurred safety concerns over the development where construction of a 123-story skyscraper is still underway. The lower floors of the complex opened last week.

The installation’s organizers denied such allegations, stressing their efforts to respect Hofman’s well-kept principles.

In previous interviews, the Dutch artist made three rules clear: the rubber duck should not be used for private purposes, must always stay on water and be produced locally.

“Hofman’s studio looked into the very details of the exhibition and the principles were well met. In fact, Hofman himself selected the venue among three available options,” said Koo Hye-jin, a curator who works for Lotte Shopping, which is managing the installation here.

Koo said Hofman preferred Seokchon Lake as visitors can easily see the rubber duck from all angles. The Han River was eliminated due to strong currents, she said.

Despite the criticism, the giant duck has become a powerful magnet, drawing people to a lake that many had refrained from visiting following reports of sink holes.

Some 721,000 people have visited the site since its opening on Tuesday, with 582,000 people crowding the lake and the surrounding park over the past weekend, according to an official at the Songpa Ward office that is cohosting the project.

A limited-edition, smaller version signed and numbered by the Dutch artist has also become a smash hit. The 5,000 ducks for sale at pop-up stores around the city have mostly sold out, according to Koo.

Visitors said while they are still aware of the Lotte controversy, the yellow rubber duck is hard to resist.

“I didn’t visit the mall because I had heard about the Lotte affiliation. Even so, I felt Lotte did a good job of boosting its image,” said Jeong Hae-in, a Seoul-based student who went to see the rubber duck last week.

“It was cute. Very, very cute,” said the 25-year-old.

Some residents, however, brushed off the art project as a makeshift measure to allay safety fears and promote the mall.

“What took me by surprise is how they positioned the rubber duck. People have to walk by the entrance of the mall to see the installation. It’s too obvious,” said Lee Ki-eun, an illustrator who has lived in the Seokchon Lake area for roughly 20 years.

“The rubber duck is nothing more than an artwork that is here temporarily. I have lived here and will continue to live here. I’m worried about the safety,” she said.

The giant duck will be on display until Nov. 14, following successful stints at major cities including Hong Kong, Sydney and Sao Paulo. (Yonhap)