Reflections on “Infinite Tire” by Douglas Coupland
Artwork: Douglas Coupland
Words: Douglas Coupland
Photos: Ema Peter
Southwest and Southeast Marine drive has always loomed in my mind as Vancouver’s spookiest strip. Since childhood, every time I’ve driven down it, I’ve been creeped out by the scary 1930s and 1940s industrial structures to the south — by the endless repetitive loop of fast food and dead underwatered lawns, and by its overabundance of appallingly cheap commercial architecture. In my mind, when children die, their ghosts went to work inside those scary brick buildings. Inside the fast food joints, the fare was probably saltier and greasier than anywhere else, and if you went into one of the businesses or professional buildings, cults would hand you religious pamphlets, and when you left, your clothing would smell like your grandmother’s front hall cupboard and a moldy copy of Life magazine with Pat Nixon on the cover.
I’ve been watching the strip’s ongoing redevelopment over the past decade, and while I’m glad it’s finally changing, I’ve been slightly unsure of what it’s changing into. The stores are now big and clean and shiny and no longer coma inducing — but maybe every time you buy something there, a penguin dies in Antarctica or a tree is chopped down up north, never to be replanted? Well, that’s just me being morbid. It’s now actually much better than it was before — the air of unipolar depression is gone — replaced by the early 21st century’s version of perfected retail, that of inventory-optimized big box shopping. The city has also kept what little good architecture there was and is making a definite attempt to green the place up. So when it came time to think of something for this location, I thought, ‘Why not revel in the consumer fantasia that is the Big Box?’ To do something earnest or minimal in the way that we expect public art to be seemed like a defeatist strategy. Anything sparse or overly cerebral would be optically clubbed to death by a staggering amount of colorful signage, and a chance to say something exciting or uplifting about the place would be lost in a possible miasma of jargon and Corten steel slabs.
Canadian Tire is a store about possibilities; we all know the wonderful sense of creative omnipotence we feel walking down the aisles: Oh, the things I could do with those slats! And why, are those thin-veneer doors useful as tabletops? And look! An eight-can paint-shaker! We know the smell of fertilizer, plywood and galvanized nails. And we most of all know the smell of rubber tires — the smell of long-chain carbon molecules off-gassing in a way that no ventilation system can ever fight. And in Canadian Tire, the rubber you smell is possibly a Motomaster whitewall, and that’s what Infinite Tire is: a Brancusi-esque expression of joy in all things suburban, a wink to the notion of better living through abundance, and a totem of sorts that acknowledges and revels in the choices and creative freedom that can be inherent in industrial sizing systems.