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Jul 23, 2013

The Stunning Rubber Duck

What would you say if I told you that a large rubber duck made the hair stand up on the back of my neck?

I thought so! Actually when I first heard of the giant duck hauled into Hong Kong bay I too rolled my eyes. I have little patience for opaque performance art that means nothing beyond the (rather delightful) fact that artists are always challenging our sense of reality. But then I heard the rest of the story...

Many folks don't know that the famous photo of the Tiananmen Sq. Tank Man whose powerful image became the icon of freedom for our times is banned in China. Few Chinese citizens have any knowledge of the Tiananmen Sq. massacre of June 4, 1989 since any reference to it is censored. But here is where artists are more powerful than whole regimes.

The Tank Man (view the astonishing raw footage) is an anonymous Chinese citizen, who, fed up with the Chinese military crackdown on unarmed citizens, faced down a line of tanks and would not budge from their oncoming roar, stopping the entire line. Some clever visionary took the banned photo of the incident (that is now one of the most reproduced images in history) and made it safe for publication in China.  Here is the new photo:

Today there is no way for the 50,000 Chinese internet police to ban a photo of a man standing before a line of rubber ducks. Indeed anyone unfamiliar with the image or the story would be perplexed. But as soon as you connect the pieces of the story together you suddenly see a silly rubber duck as a powerful statement of the undefeated glory of the human spirit and its triumph in the face of unlimited power, regardless of how it's portrayed in the media.

This is the brilliant move of freedom advocates that power simply cannot defeat (and is proof of why artists are so feared by authoritarian regimes). There is no way for power to object to rubber ducks. And even if they did, they cannot escape the compelling question: why would you ban an image of something so innocuous as a rubber duck? The only answer acknowledges the very symbol that Chinese rulers wish to kill!  Check-mate!

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Tim Holmes Studio

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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.