A rendering of the upcoming “Heads Up” artwork, in which the duck will sit heads or tails up depending on water levels.
Writer: Luke Manderfeld
A new piece of artwork will make it easier for recreation enthusiasts to see water conditions as they consider entry into the Des Moines River. “Heads Up,” created by internationally renowned artist Matthew Mazzotta, will feature a floating duck that will sit tails or heads up depending on water levels. The installation, planned for summer 2022, is part of the Shoreline Signals project aiming to integrate public art along Central Iowa’s water trails. “Heads Up” will be funded through a $125,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, provided to Polk County and Bravo Greater Des Moines.
We chatted with Mazzotta, who has earned numerous international architecture awards and was selected from a pool of dozens of applicants, to get his thoughts on the project. Mazzotta grew up and works in Canton, New York, just south of the Canadian border. The interview has been edited for length.
What excites you about this project?
Having an artist at the table to actually design things to help a city succeed, that’s interesting. I’m always thinking on that scale. Even though I’m an artist, it has always been activism and urbanism. How do people make what they have come together in a better way?
Why did you decide on a duck?
That one was strategic in that multiple audiences have to read an indicator. You could do it with lights, you could do it with beacons. Our thinking was how do you make something that was both whimsical, so you’re attracted enough to look at it, but also super easy to read? It’s either heads down or heads up. And how do you get different communities to sign on to it by picking a duck that would be the most interesting to them?
What are your long-term hopes for the project?
It’s probably the hopes that many people have, which is that you give people who don’t have a connection to the river access to talk about it. People will be going down the road on the highway, and they will see the duck with the tail up. But then one day the head is up, they’ll probably go to work that day and [talk about it]. It was just one entry point for someone to say, “I have information about this, too.” You wouldn’t have that information otherwise. This is making it way more obvious.