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Enormous KAWS sculpture appears on Hong Kong waters

Updated 12:38 AM ET, Mon March 25, 2019

Hong Kong (CNN) - Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour is a busy channel of passing ships, ferries and, until the end of March, an enormous inflatable sculpture by the American artist KAWS. His signature character, Companion, now bobs gently in the water, arms stretched out and facing the sky.

"I wanted to create a work that was really about just relaxing -- taking time for yourself and just laying down and looking up," said Brian Donnelly -- also known as KAWS -- ahead of its launch.

The 37-meter-long (121-foot) sculpture weighs more than 40 tons, thanks largely to the steel pontoon it's affixed to.

"At first glance, it seems like a very simple project," Donnelly said near the shipyards in Tsing Yi, where finishing touches and a series of inflation tests took place. "But just with the choppiness of Hong Kong's water ... it had to be produced in a way that would sort of exist in the water, and not just be thrown about, or take off."

Donnelly produced the floating installation with long-time collaborator AllRightsReserved, the same Hong Kong-based studio that helped turn Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman's giant inflatable rubber duck into a viral sensation.

But the company's creative director and curator, Shu-kam Lam, said KAWS' piece was even more challenging, due to the complex shape of the work. While Hofman's duck sat on a simple, circular pontoon weighing about 5 tons, Companion rests on a diamond-shaped one weighing eight times that.

Then there was the matter of transporting it from the shipyard to Victoria Harbour.

"(We had to make) all these different kind of arrangements because the artwork cannot (simply) float to location, you need two tugboats to pull it from Tsing Yi to Central," Lam said, adding that the process took around eight hours.

Companion's arrival in the harbor coincides with a month of arts events centered around this week's Art Basel Hong Kong fair. The artwork, titled "KAWS: Holiday," seems destined to become an Instagram favorite and a talking point among locals.

A diver helping with the project, Chan Kwok Yung, described it as "a cute, dead body," while a shipyard worker likened the sculpture to Hello Kitty. "When people see it, they will feel relaxed," said Cheung Shu Fook, the captain of a small boat.

"That's really the beauty of public art," Donnelly said of the varying reactions he expects the work to attract. "You get people from all different backgrounds coming in and encountering it (and) taking from it what they will. I don't try to say exactly what they need to feel when they see a work. It's just what it is to them, what their history is and their associations."

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