12-year-old origami artist advocates for Great Lakes with new Science Centre exhibit

A 12-year-old Toronto boy could be one of the Great Lakes’ youngest champions, and he’s raising awareness about their surrounding eco-system through art: specifically, origami.

Daniel Ranger, 12, wants to make Great Lakes 'swimmable, drinkable, fishable'

Daniel Ranger's snails as part of the Gladstone Hotel's 'Grow Op' exhibition last April. (Vivian Wong/Instagram)

A 12-year-old Toronto boy could be one of the Great Lakes' youngest champions, and he's raising awareness about their surrounding eco-system through art: specifically, origami.

Daniel Ranger is a self-taught origami artist whose latest installation will be unveiled today at the Ontario Science Centre. The exhibit, called Deep Blue, is a 3D model of Lake Ontario that includes more than 2,000 origami fish and other species that he and visitors to the Science Centre created.

Deep Blue is part of the Great Art for Great Lakes initiative proposed by Ontario's Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell and hosted by the non-profit, Waterlution.

In addition to being an origami artist, Ranger is a Junior Ambassador for the Great Lakes Trust. Wearing a t-shirt that said "swim, drink, fish," Ranger said Thursday morning that he would like to affect change through his art.

"I really want the Great Lakes to be swimmable, drinkable and fishable," he told CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

Ranger's mother, artist Vivian Wong, displays her son's work on Instragram, and his origami has previously been on display at the Gladstone Hotel as part of Grow Op, the hotel's annual urbanism, landscape and contemporary art exhibition. For that show, his origami snails featured prominently in the display and he led workshops to help others learn the particular skill of folding paper.

Daniel Ranger leads an origami workshop at the Ontario Science Centre. (Vivian Wong)

He encounters snails each day, particular on bike rides along the Don Valley Trails, which he sometimes uses to get to the waterfront.

"It usually takes me a long time to get there because I'm always stopping to move the snails," he said, noting that most people don't notice them.

"When I did the art at the Gladstone Hotel, I tried to draw attention to how they are so beautiful but they are so fragile," he said. "And they are a small part of the greater whole."

It took him about a day to figure out how to make an origami snail, he said, and now he can make one in just a few minutes.

For the Science Centre show, Ranger led two workshops for visitors and their efforts are part of the new exhibit.

Some of the origami shapes end up in dioramas to be put on display. (Vivian Wong/Instagram)

For Thursday's interview, Ranger brought in a diorama of wildlife and held a small-mouthed bass while in studio. He doesn't follow a pattern, he said. Rather, he keeps trying different folds until the piece of paper "turns into a fish."

As he works, he follows the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of wabi-sabi, where change and impermanence are inevitable.

"You are always accepting that change is a process," Ranger said.

"And sometimes there's going to be something changing, and you have to accept that not everything is going to be perfect."

A collection of origami snails. (Vivian Wong/Instagram)