Festival of Firsts to feature 40-foot-high, 30-foot-wide rubber duck


PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh Cultural Trust knows that everyone remembers their first.

The organization's Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts returns this year with programming ranging from interactive performances to a giant inflatable rubber duck, all making their U.S. premieres.

“We want to put the spotlight on Pittsburgh as an international city and make sure it's recognized locally and by people around the world,” said Kevin McMahon, Trust president at a press conference June 3. “We want to represent it as a great arts town and a sophisticated arts town, and we're doing it. Few cities bring this kind of international art to their cities.”

This marks the third local Festival of Firsts, which first launched in 2004. Pittsburghers might remember when German troupe Theatre Titanick staged a technology-aided sinking of the ill-fated ship in the Allegheny River for the kickoff. The second festival occurred in 2008.

This year's festival runs Sept. 27 through Oct. 26, and will offer audiences unique, compelling works in a wide range of art forms, including theater, dance, music, performance and visual art at a variety of venues around Pittsburgh.

It all kicks off with a hard-to-miss piece that's gained international attention in cities like Hong Kong and Sydney. Floretijn Hofman's “The Rubber Duck,” a 40-foot-high, 30-foot-wide floating quacker will launch near the West End Bridge and bob up the Allegheny.

The duck has made an appearance in 15 cities around the world, with countless spectators experiencing its ability to relieve tension by lacking any kind of agenda and just being friendly.

“It's a great concept to have a huge rubber ducky in a global bathtub,” said Hofman with a laugh.

Artists like Hofman are coming from all over the world, including the Netherlands, Quebec, Belgium, Australia, Switzerland, Nova Scotia and the United States.

Examples of their work include “Kiss & Cry,” from Belgium collective NanoDanses, the story of a woman recounting her greatest loves told by hands portraying characters among miniature sets.

“Measure Back,” by Christopher McElroen and T. Ryder Smith, asks what it means to say we are at war and uses audience participation to seek a path between citizen-as-spectator and citizen-as-participant.

McElroen says the performance is developed nightly based on audience input.

“It's an attempt to get inside the process of how war is constructed,” he said.

Visual arts highlights include “Zee” by Kurt Hentschlager, an enclosed space filled with dense, odorless fog that obscures the participant's perspective and fully immerses him in a droning soundscape. Hentschlager's “Hive” is a 3-D animated audiovisual installation involving a swirling mass of human figures spiraling into one form.

Paul Organisak, vice president of programming at the Trust, calls much of the festival's art work “uncategorizable.”

“It's art that's breaking boundaries and crossing boundaries,” he said.

This article was written by Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE.