On May 1, 2013—the coldest day in May in nearly a century—more than 1,000 Hongkongers bundled up and headed to the harbourfront to welcome a larger-than-life visitor to town: a 16.5-metre-tall inflatable rubber duck. Some residents adored it: a headline in the South China Morning Post declared “Giant rubber duck has united the city”. Others weren’t so sure about the installation, which was actually a sculpture by the Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman. One animation that was widely shared on Facebook pictured the duck being bombed and sinking beneath the waves. But love it or hate it, one thing was certain: everyone in the city was talking about the big, bobbing bird in Victoria Harbour.
“It was totally different,” says Lam Shu-kam, better known as SK Lam, the founder of AllRightsReserved (ARR), the creative studio that turned Hofman’s vision for a six-storey-tall bath toy into a reality. After years of working as a creative director for a magazine, Lam launched ARR in 2003 as a graphic design and branding agency, but by 2010 it had grown into what it is today: a company that collaborates with artists to produce books, prints, limited-edition figurines and public art installations like Hofman’s duck.
Other projects have included collectible statuettes designed by big-name artists such as Yue Minjun and Joan Cornellà and—most famously— the American street artist Brian Donnelly, better known as Kaws. ARR collaborated with Donnelly on his yacht-sized Kaws: Holiday inflatable sculptures, which launched in South Korea in 2018, then travelled to Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan and Qatar last year. In the next few months, Lam is launching a new series of ceramics with American artist Andy Rementer, a wooden figurine by Japanese illustrator Yusuke Hanai and, he says, another Kaws: Holiday inflatable will be unveiled—this time in a city outside Asia—before the end of the year.
“I first met Brian in my previous job, when I worked for IdN magazine in the Nineties,” says Lam. “We became friends and talked about different ideas. We naturally ended up working on art projects.” Together they have produced limited-edition soft toys and vinyl figurines of Kaws’ famous Companion character—a Mickey Mouse-like figure with crossed-out eyes—and major installations, including Seeing / Watching, an eight-metre-tall bronze sculpture of two Kaws characters that now sits atop the Changsha IFS mall in China.
Larger Than Life
But none of these duets were as ambitious as Kaws: Holiday, a 28-metre-long floating installation that Kaws and Lam first launched on Sokcheon Lake in Seoul, South Korea. By Kaws’ own account, the logistics behind a work of that scale were “crazy”. Hidden beneath the surface of the water was a 40-tonne steel structure that continuously pumped air into the inflatable, so that the sculpture always appeared to have a smooth, seamless surface.
Then there were countless challenges involving the weather, moving such a huge and heavy object, and even the threat of sabotage by unimpressed visitors (just think of the fate that was to come for Maurizio Cattelan’s poor banana). Lam knew the project would be difficult, but he wasn’t deterred. “When I first saw [Kaws’ plans for the sculpture], I thought, ‘Let’s do it’,” says Lam. “I wasn’t just excited to work on another project together, I understood it was something he wanted to do differently, to have another challenge.”