Hofman’s last foray to Pays de la Loire was in 2007 when, as part of the Estuaire 2007
exhibition of breathtaking sculptures along the river Loire between the city of Nantes and the Atlantic port of Saint Nazaire, Hofman introduced his Rubber Duck to the world.
The Rubber Duck, a giant inflatable structure 25 metres (about 82 feet) high and 32 metres (about 105 feet) long, had become the mascot of Estuaire 2007. Afterwards the Rubber Duck embarked on something of a world tour bobbing up (and down) in many cities across the world from as far apart as Auckland in New Zealand, to São Paulo in Brazil and to Osaka in Japan
(pictured). The Rubber Duck was an inflatable, based on a standard model familiar to children all over the world but adults, too, couldn’t help grinning as it floated, ever smiling and serenely, down the world’s waterways.
35 year old Florentijn Hofman’s sculptures
are large, verging on the gigantic, with consistent themes being humour and maximum impact. Wherever the sculptures appear, one thing is guaranteed; the public will stop and stare.
Rotterdam based Hofman’s sculptures often originate from everyday objects and perhaps their beauty lies in the small-writ-large, be it the Fat Monkey
(São Paulo, 2010), a huge monkey constructed from 10,000 brightly coloured flip-flops, typical Brazilian footwear, or the recent Slow Slugs exhibit in Angers, France constructed principally from goal netting and 40,000 plastic bags: everyday, ready-made objects crafted into unforgettable three dimensional iconic images with the capacity to both unsettle and amuse at the same time.
There’s also a social aspect, to Hofman’s sculptures. For Hofman, audience involvement is an essential part of his work and the sculptor takes particular care to embed his creations in the environments where they are placed. For his exhibit Steelman (2011), for example, before embarking upon construction, Hofman talked at length with young local residents of the Staalmanplein (Staalmansquare), a formerly rough neighbourhood in Amsterdam Slotervaart in his home country, Holland.
Following these consultations, Hofman conceived an 11 metre (36 feet) high bear with a pillow under its arm (pictured). Says the artist, ‘The bear is tough and is standing straddle-legged. Those who live in this neighbourhood have to stand their ground. At the same time the bear is a symbol of fraternization. People socialise at the foot of the sculpture.’
Confronted with one of Hofman’s remarkable sculptures, you can’t help but stop and stare, letting the image embed, indelibly into your consciousness. As Hofman puts it, ‘My sculptures cause an uproar, astonishment and put a smile on your face. They give people a break from their daily routines. Passers-by stop in front of them, get off their bicycle and enter into conversation with other spectators. People are making contact with each other again. That is the effect of my sculptures in the public domain.’
That is precisely what happened in Angers when the Slow Slugs exhibit took form. Two gigantic colourful representations of slugs, each constructed from goal netting and 20,000 plastic bags, ‘processed’ up the steep steps rising from the banks of the river Maine in Angers towards Angers' Roman Catholic Cathedral, the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice d'Angers
The two slugs were constructed from recycled plastic bags – not such a problem in France, but the bane of railway embankments, motorway verges, the oceans and wildlife in many places in the world. The over-sized slugs on the steps of Angers Cathedral were embarking on what Hofman termed a “slow crawl to death."
The Slow Slugs project was on display in Angers until mid-September. Although Hofman’s exhibit evoked a number of serious issues, an excess of plastic, a throwaway society, mortality, commerce, decay, the corruption of religious authority, it did so in a sociable way. People did stop, stare, think...and talk! As Hofman said, “People are making contact with each other again. That is the effect of my sculptures in the public domain.”
Whatever Hofman pulls off next, ignoring it is not an option.