It has been the backdrop to a thousand souvenir photos and the focus of a public campaign to save it from a natural demise. Now the Hollow Tree – an 800-year-old Western Red Cedar in Stanley Park – is to become a work of art. Vancouver artist Douglas Coupland unveiled his concept Wednesday for a full-scale replica of the tree, which will be installed in 2015 near a new highrise residential development in the Cambie Corridor. The 43-foot gold-finished sculpture – the Golden Tree – will be set against a large-scale image of the Stanley Park forest. The real Hollow Tree, badly damaged in a 2006 windstorm, was slated for removal but after much outcry, was stabilized with funding from private donors.
The Globe and Mail interviewed Douglas Coupland, whose works include the novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, inside the Hollow Tree in Stanley Park.
Why did you choose the Hollow Tree as the subject for this sculpture?
In Vancouver you grow up with the modern world and nature. You know whatever you build in Vancouver comes at the expense of nature and that gives us an obligation to use this wisely and not stupidly.
I think that Vancouverites think about ecosystems more than people in other cities – not just trees: wildlife, weather, anything that has to do with being alive inside a functioning ecosystem.
And, I think that comes through in the gold tree and the real tree here.
What impact do you think the sculpture will have on people?
For one, it'd make you want to see the original. To see if Doug got it right. It would make you think about the original…how big nature is and how we're very lucky to be here. I mean you're not going find a tree with a stump that's this size anywhere else in Canada – down the West Coast you would – but in Canada, this is absolutely unique.
Some people might look at this stump and say 'who cares?' Why should someone care about it?
It shows us what we used to have and what we can have again in the future, if we have a spirit of appreciating nature and if we realize that we are its custodian for better or for worse. It's really hard to imagine someone saying 'oh, it's just a stump.' What sort of person would say that? Who on earth would say that? I don't think anyone would. No one would ever say that.
What do you think about the public art landscape in Vancouver?
I think there's some really good stuff out there now. I don't know if the city's policy has changed, but it seems like lately, it's starting to get really good.
Public art is very divisive. I mean people love it or hate it and it's their tax dollars and they're entitled to an opinion.
And if you don't have it then the city is like a big parking lot.
You are internationally renowned. Why are you rooted in Vancouver?
Because we have things like great big trees here and we have floatplanes that can take you off to more nature. And I grew up here. I like to think that if I was from somewhere else, I would've moved here anyway but I sort of got a head start. I love it. I'm here for the long haul.
You were once dubbed the voice of a generation. Today, what do you think your role is as an artist?
Any artist's only goal is to remain curious about the world. And I'm still curious about the world and I hope it doesn't go away. I don't think it will. It's a beautiful place.
This interview has been edited and condensed.