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Rubber duck artist shrugs off disputed Lotte tie

All Headlines 14:33 October 21, 2014

By Lee Minji

SEOUL, Oct. 21 (Yonhap) -- Florentijn Hofman, creator of the bigger-than-life rubber duck that has endeared thousands of South Koreans, shrugged off allegations that the art installation was set up to quell public fear over a controversial development by South Korean conglomerate Lotte.

"Each project rubber duck in the world needs a sponsor, and in this case it's Lotte. And that's it," the Dutch artist told reporters Tuesday in his visit to Korea scheduled a week after the installation of a 16.5-meter floating duck at Seokchon Lake in southwestern Seoul.

The photogenic duck with an orange beak and twinkling eyes became an instant social media phenomenon, but critics have charged that the retail conglomerate sponsored the project to mitigate public unease over its new shopping complex that's close to the Seoul lake.

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 construction of a 123-story skyscraper still underway. The lower floors of the complex opened last week.

Rubber duck artist shrugs off disputed Lotte tie - 2

Hofman said the simultaneous opening of the art exhibition and the shopping mall was "purely coincidental," saying he chose to partner with Lotte as they respected the art.

"You have to understand that the producer, not Lotte, contacted me in Shanghai to bring the rubber duck last year, so the opening is purely coincidental. This is the last opportunity before winter sets in."

"If you look at a museum, it's also paid by companies. A museum also brings in people, they want money to show art ... I think a commissioner who brings a rubber duck has benefits; I'm not blind. But they respect the art to stand alone," he said.

In that vein, Hofman said he chose Seokchon Lake as the exhibition venue for its intimacy.

"I think the lake is a great start to have a rubber duck project in Korea. Because of the 360-degree approach, people can walk around the lake and watch it in every angle. The isolation of the lake and all the buildings around makes it very intimate," Hofman noted.

The Dutch artist, who has mostly focused on public art, said he hopes the rubber duck will help relieve grief following the deadly sinking of the ferry Sewol. More than 300 people, most of them high school students aboard for a school trip, were killed in the April 16 disaster.

"I feel very connected because it was on my birthday. It's an honor to bring this project here, and if it can help relieve some grief and sadness, I'll be very happy."

Rubber duck artist shrugs off disputed Lotte tie - 3

Hofman said he also hopes the rubber duck will act as a "catalyst" in connecting people and triggering conversations.

"I always say that the rubber duck is a catalyst. It simply shows what's here. If there are problems in the vicinity because of the tower, it simply shows it and starts a conversation."

The giant duck will be on display until Nov. 14, wrapping up its journey to Seoul following successful stints at major cities such as Hong Kong, Sydney and Sao Paulo.

More than 700,000 people have visited the site since its local opening last week, with 582,000 people crowding the lake and the surrounding park over the past weekend, according to the Songpa Ward office, which is co-hosting the project.


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