Douglas Coupland and the Digital Orca Sculpture in Vancouver

The waterfront is an interesting area in downtown Vancouver. It has many attractions and some lovely scenery. The area includes major constructions for business people and tourists as well as an enjoyable walking trail beside the water. One of the attractions of the waterfront is the Digital Orca sculpture next to the Vancouver Convention Centre. The sculptor was Douglas Coupland.

A view of the Digital Orca and its surroundings
Photo by Linda Crampton

The Digital Orca Sculpture

The Digital Orca was created (or at least installed) in 2009. The sculpture is located at Jack Poole Plaza and is backed by Burrard Inlet and the Coast Mountains. Jack Poole was a businessman who led the committee that successfully won Vancouver’s bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics. In real life, the orca (Orcinus orca) is also called the killer whale. It can be seen off the BC coast and occasionally in Burrard Inlet. It’s admired by many local people.

The sculpture is created in black and white blocks, which are meant to represent the pixels of a computer monitor. When a viewer is close to the orca, the blocks can clearly be seen. As a viewer moves further away, the blocks become less clearly distinguished from one another and gradually start to blend together.

The sculptor said that he wanted to create an unexpected sensation for the viewer. The sensation is greatest when we approach the sculpture from the distance. At first we think “Oh look! There’s a giant killer whale sculpture beside the water”. As we get nearer, we may be surprised to see that the whale is made of blocks carefully joined together to create the correct shape and appearance of the orca. When we’re very close to the sculpture, it looks like a meaningless jumble of blocks. As we move away, a pattern emerges.

Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland lives in Vancouver and grew up in the area. He’s a writer as well as a sculptor and has been involved in many other creative projects. His first novel was published in 1991 and is entitled Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. Though the term generation X had been used before Coupland’s novel, he gave it its modern meaning.

Generation X is the demographic group born between the birth dates of the baby boomers and the millennials, or between the early or mid 1960s and the early 1980s. There’s a lot a debate about which people should be included in the generation X category, however.

An Exhibition Designed by Coupland at the Vancouver Aquarium

The Vancouver Aquarium currently has an exhibition designed by Douglas Coupland on display. It’s called “Vortex” and is about plastic pollution in the ocean. According to the aquarium, the exhibition involves an “imaginative journey to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. It’s on display until May, 2019. I haven’t seen the exhibition yet, but I plan to.

The Vancouver Aquarium is located in Stanley Park, which is not far from the killer whale sculpture and the downtown core of Vancouver. For healthy people with normal mobility, it’s perfectly feasible to walk from the downtown area to the park. The journey takes between twenty and forty minutes, depending on walking speed and the starting location in the downtown area. Buses and taxis go the park as well. It’s also possible to cycle to the park along quieter roads.

The Aquarium and Stanley Park

Stanley Park is large (400 hectares) and is located by the water. It’s a major tourist attraction in its own right. It’s worth visiting before or after an aquarium visit, though exploring the entire park would take a long time.

The aquarium is a popular place. It has been somewhat controversial in the past due to the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity, including orcas. This situation has changed, however. Currently, the only cetacean that remains is one Pacific white-sided dolphin. Helen has partially amputated pectoral fins and can’t be released into the wild because she would have difficulty surviving. The injury happened before she was brought to the aquarium. I’ve written an article about Pacific white-sided dolphins and Helen’s story, which provides more information.

Visiting the Waterfront

The waterfront is always a great place to visit. It’s quick to reach from the downtown area. In addition to the attractions that are always present, special ones are present at certain times of year, such as on Canada Day (July 1st) and at Christmas time. I visit the waterfront quite often and nearly always take a look at the Digital Orca when I’m in the area.