Douglas Coupland explores impact of plastic waste in oceans in new Vancouver Aquarium exhibit

The display, Vortex, is constructed from plastic trash that has washed up on B.C.'s shores.

Artist designed Vortex to help visualize Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Douglas Coupland's new exhibit opened at the Vancouver Aquarium on May 18. (James Mulleder/CBC)

Plastic and its impacts on the world's oceans are at the centre of a new Douglas Coupland art exhibit at the Vancouver Aquarium.

The display, Vortex, is constructed from plastic trash that has washed up on B.C.'s shores.

Aquarium president John Nightingale said he hopes the piece helps visitors visualize the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the north Pacific Ocean.

"Over a dump truck of plastic goes into the world's oceans every minute of every hour," Nightingale told reporters Tuesday.

"That plastic is causing big problems with ocean animals and ocean ecosystems."

Inspiration from real life

The exhibit includes a battered Japanese fishing boat that washed ashore on Haida Gwaii in 2017, a casualty of the 2011 tsunami. The vessel sits atop a 50,000-litre water installation, and has a crew of four human characters that represent the past, present and future of people's relationship with plastic, according to the artist.

Coupland said he began collecting consumer plastics during visits to Tokyo in the 1990s. In later years, he became fond of beachcombing along the shores of Haida Gwaii.

He told reporters that he remembers walking along a beach a few years ago, when "one of the plastic cleaning bottles that I used to collect in Tokyo suddenly washed up on the shore."

Coupland said the experience "evangelized me, in a way."

He hopes the exhibit will help people reconsider their use of disposable plastic, in much the same way attitudes toward littering shifted decades ago.

Vortex opened at the aquarium on Friday.

Listen to the full interview with Douglas Coupland:

The artist and author speaks with CBC Daybreak North guest host Audrey McKinnon about a new piece opening at the Vancouver Art Gallery exploring the impact of plastics on our oceans. 7:56