Canadian novelist and designer Douglas Coupland is taking on the plastic pollution crisis in the world’s oceans with a new exhibit coming to B.C.
Using plastic found along the province’s shorelines, Vortex will be on display at the Vancouver Aquarium, near the animals most affected by the pollution: whales, dolphins and seals.
The idea started four years ago during a return visit to Haida Gwaii, when Coupland came across debris that had washed up from the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
While walking along the shores he had been visiting for decades, he found the same plastic bottles he remembered buying in Tokyo 13 years before.
“I began working with plastic thinking it was eternal, shiny and happy,” Coupland said.
“Finding that plastic bottle on the beach was like being on the receiving end of an ancient curse warning me, ‘Be careful what you find seductive. Be careful the things you desire.’ I knew I had to do something to change this. We can turn this around.”
Vortex includes several components surrounding a large, 50,000-litre water installation with a battered Japanese fishing boat that had been lost during the tsunami and found on Haida Gwaii.
Inside the boat sits a crew of four characters, including artist Andy Warhol and a woman in a life-jacket meant to represent an African migrant fleeing from her home country.
The idea is to represent the “complex global web” of oil, plastics, politics and power and how it’s changed through the decades, Coupland said in a release Tuesday, including “Plastic Girl and Plastic Boy” representing the future.
Inspired by the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup’s annual “dirty dozen” list, based on each year’s cleanup across the country, the exhibit also features a gallery wall show a collection of the most common marine debris found on shorelines.
Coupland said he hopes the piece can foster change and bring understanding to the global scope of plastic pollution in oceans.
“I’m just old enough to remember when people littered. But almost overnight, littering stopped. It’s a hard thing to believe, but it happened because millions of forces around the world coalesced,” Coupland said.
“If I can be part of this process with marine plastics, then great. Environmental art is not what I thought I’d be doing with my life at the age of 56, but I think a lifetime spent beside the Pacific inevitably had to assert its presence from my subconscious out into the conscious world.”
Vortex opens at the Vancouver Aquarium on May 18.