Discovering urban origami in the wild

What does this look like to you?

trash that looks like origami crane

I found this on the ground in the middle of a busy pedestrian sidewalk.

This object demanded a closer look, because it looks like intentional origami. A piece of crumbled trash that totally looks like a crane. (Or maybe a goose or rooster)

While shooting a 16-second video of this urban origami, it flipped over in the wind at the 8-second mark. Almost like this bird is actually alive, and wanted me to see its other side! “Here, I’ll flip over for you to see!”

The most visible word on the other side: inhale. Very curious.

We’ve determined the origami form of this object. What about its original form?

Heh. This feels like we are talking about a Transformer. All Transformers have a robot mode and an alt mode. The alt mode is usually some sort of vehicle geared towards utility or disguise. Thus, in this case the origami trash, we have two modes trash and crane. But which is robot and which is alt mode?

  • Robot mode is the trash. That’s what this thing is originally is—trash.
  • Alt mode is the crane. The trash is hiding in the public eye as a crane.

It’s a bit fun to think of origami as a Transformer. Origami indeed does transform! From a single sheet of paper, it transforms into some sort of object.

I’ve been thinking about making artwork specifically like this. Things that look like trash, but is actually origami. Which is probably why I noticed this on the sidewalk. Identifying trash as origami is lodged into my brain. When a piece of trash on the ground looks like something—BOOM—I identify it.

This sort of identifying ability would be so much fun if more people did it. Being in the moment and observing the world around you closely. Many people walked by this little unintentional artwork, passing by little piece of creation on the ground.

People walking by origami trash

This is a marvelous piece of accidental representation.

The beak on the bird is like how you’d make a beak on an a real origami crane. The red ink is like red plumage on a bird. The wings are wonderful. Made of clear plastic, the wings have a light airy quality to them—just like bird wings would be light. The overall form of the bird has the bird in flight. The action of it moving. Not a static sitting object, but one of motion. Poetic motion found on the dirty sidewalks of Chicago.

I’d like to see how this evolved through its creation. From the crumbling of the consumer, to the various stomping of the pedestrians. All these wonderful little aspects of this trash crumbled just in the delicate manner to form this crane.

What is it made from?

Maybe the base material of this origami will give us hints into how it was created.

The design printed on the paper looks like it’s some sort of packaging. A candy wrapper? But why would a candy wrapper have clear plastic?

When I discovered the object, I was walking from the train station to work. Eight hours later, I’m no walking in the other direction. I remained curious about what it was made from.

While walking back to the train station among the throngs of rush hour pedestrians, I searched the sidewalks to see if the spontaneous artwork remained in the same spot.

The wind was blowing rather briskly, so certainly the bird must have flown away, right? In the morning while recording it for 20 seconds, the bird flipped in the wind. There’s no way the bird would still be here. It must have gotten blown blocks down the street. Or landed on the other side of the street.

I was determined and continued to look. When I reached the same spot where it originally lay…

Indeed! In the gutter sat the bird!

How about that!? Maybe I’ll keep it!

How fitting the origami trash was sitting in the gutter, among the discarded cigarette butts. After all, it is originally trash. This origami bird is merely sitting at home among the other garbage.

I picked up the origami bird and inspected the design of the packaging. Ahhh, it’s a box of Swisher Sweets cigars! Red and white branding. Clear plastic bag inside the package! Ahhhh, cigars!

Origami crane made from Swisher Sweet cigar box

My thoughts of keeping this origami quickly went down the trash, when I realized this is cigar packaging. Kinda gross. Tobacco flakes and who knows what else could be folded inside this box. However, that makes this all the more poetic. Disgusting cigars serendipitously crushed into a flying origami crane.

I took the bird and tucked it gently under a light pole to protect it from the rain. Days later it’s still there, protected under the light pole.

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