Douglas Coupland’s digital orca captures the spirit of Vancouver Harbour

Douglas Coupland’s first piece of public art in Vancouver is both beautiful and bizarre.

Credit: Vancouver Convention Centre

Douglas Coupland’s digital orca at the Vancouver Convention Centre

Douglas Coupland’s first piece of public art in Vancouver is both beautiful and bizarre


As the sun hangs low above the treetops of Stanley Park, casting the last rays out along the glimmering water, it’s not just the natural beauty of the harbour or the noble North Shore mountains that catches one’s gaze. Where the seawall passes the new Vancouver Convention Centre’s western wall, leaping up toward the sky is the massive figure of an orca whale encrusted with twinkling lights.


Douglas Coupland’s first piece of public art in Vancouver, Harbour Spirit Digital Orca, is both beautiful and bizarre, appearing as digital art in the three-dimensional world. Made using a steel armature with aluminum cladding, black and white cubes comprise the orca’s body, “making a familiar symbol of the West Coast become something unexpected and new,” Coupland writes on a plaque near the sculpture.

It also touches upon the importance of technology and nature in the province.


Since 2001, when Coupland resumed his visual art career, he has created large-scale pieces such as the Toronto Park sculpture and Supernova, a clock tower located in Toronto’s Don Mills in 2009, and has shown in galleries nationally and internationally.


Douglas Coupland’s ‘Digital Orca’

Download a PDF of the Vancouver Convention Centre map to find the location of Douglas Coupland’s ‘Digital Orca.’

MORE PICS: View the digital orca Flickr pool.


But what sets his digital orca apart from the rest of his work?


“I like the scale and the seamlessness of this piece. And it really speaks to the space and the time where it is,” Coupland told Granville. “It has a flawless back-and-forth in my brain’s visual cortex, a dialog along the lines of, ‘Is it real? Is it fake? Is it cubes? Is it an animal?’”


He hopes that his sculpture will be used as a meeting space and that whoever comes to look at the digital orca will feel “a sense of place,” reflecting the unique quality of the marine environment lapping at Vancouver’s shores.


Vancouver Convention Centre Art Project

The best time to view the sculpture is at night, says Clive Grout, art curator of the Vancouver Convention Centre’s Art Project, an impressive collection of 11 large-scale art pieces created by local and international artists—including Coupland’s Harbour Spirit. He remarks on how much attention the orca’s been getting since its release in May, especially when observers see the subtle twinkling of the LED lights.


“I think the sculpture is most effective at dusk when there is still enough light around,” says Grout. “You can define the form quite well and you can see the sparkle of the lights. You get some wonderful reflections in the glass of the building at that time of night, too, with the west setting sun.”


Coupland reflects on the joy he gets from seeing how the public interacts with piece: “I love watching people come up to it. Stand back. Come forward, stand further back, come forward—and so on. It’s highly interactive in a psychologically compelling way.”


Colleen Tang

Colleen Tang is a Vancouver-based writer, anxiously close to earning her Master of Journalism from Ryerson University. Her friends often find her talking about food or crime shows. She can also be found singing in stairwells or at karaoke. She recently launched a website but is more likely to update photos or tweet.