The Spirit of Plastic

Sayaka Ganz’s Imperfect Fit

Shinto practitioners believe all objects and organisms have spirits, and items that are discarded before their time weep at night.  Taking this belief to heart, sculptor Sayaka Ganz rescues bits and pieces of plastic junk from their landfill prison, bringing their souls back to life in the form of graceful galloping horses, soaring birds and swimming fish.
Raised in Japan, Sayaka Ganz and her family moved often. Changing schools and trying to fit in was often difficult for Ganz. It was during these hard times the young girl occupied herself by making things with scrap materials and discarded objects--pieces that didn't quite fit or belong anywhere. "My mom always had some sort of craft hobby with lots of scrap materials for me to play with so I started creating these scrap material sculptures by piecing and fitting together random materials." She adds, "These sculptures were not well-crafted and I was always frustrated with my results, but it didn't stop me from wanting to make more." 
Ganz eventually moved to the United States and went on to study art, focusing on printmaking at Indiana University in Bloomington where she earned her BFA. But sculpting called out to her in spite of its technical and creative challenges. "You need to know the materials, tools and physics very well at either an intellectual or intuitive level to execute anything well. It took me a while to get around to taking some classes and workshops and discover welding, a process I just fell in love with." 
Sculpting animals represented a certain kind of freedom for Ganz and her desire to break free from human social struggles and conflicts. "I want to set the spirits of these discarded objects free by turning them into animals. Animals also exist between human and object realms in most of our minds, being so clearly alive yet sometimes being bought and belonging to a person or a group of people.  We can relate to them much easier than we relate to inanimate objects, yet they are not us," Ganz said. 
Ganz's inspiration comes from the objects that she uses, and like Shinto followers she has deep sympathy for discarded objects, wanting to make them fit together to create something beautiful, alive and free. "I was introduced to Deborah Butterfield's art when I was a student, and I love her work. There are also many other artists who use discarded objects like I do and I find it very inspiring to look at how each artist does something completely different even when the materials they use are so similar." 
To build and shape her animal sculptures, Ganz researches each animal extensively. Typically she doesn't study anatomy, but examines the same pose from many different angles to understand its form and how the joints fit together and pivot. Then she welds an armature with thick steel wire for structural support. This stage of sculpture is very carefully planned and executed. "I make sure the armature has plenty of holes, intersections, and places I can tie the plastic objects onto. Then I paint the armature to match the overall color of the plastic objects I will be using." She adds, "Once the armature is complete and painted, I start attaching plastic objects by drilling small holes and tying them onto the armature with electrical wire that is coated with vinyl in the same general color. This stage of my process is very spontaneous and intuitive." 
Like many artists who have switched to a different media, Ganz has met a number of challenges like the fact that there aren't any manuals available that explain how to use plastic objects for art, or art supply stores that sell the materials that she employs. For the most part, Ganz's methodology is always through trial and error. "I enjoy that. Problem solving is part of the challenge, part of the puzzle. The most challenging part of my sculpture is building the right support structure, the armature. I want it to support the weight, but I also need to integrate it into the design and make it work visually. This takes the longest, making sure the armature works both structurally and visually." 

However, the more intuitive part of Ganz's work is the series of small obstacles that she resolves by stepping back, removing an object, or adding and replacing with another one. Sometimes she changes the angle of some objects and steps away again and repeats the entire process until the piece has the right flow.  
Most people stumble upon Ganz's work thanks to her strong on line presence. HAND/EYE, for example, discovered photos her sculptures on Facebook. Bloggers and online magazines have written about her work and Ganz admits she's received a few email fan letters per week. Now living in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Ganz has a following of loyal collectors. 
Ganz's big project for this summer is a collaborative public art sculpture in Toledo, Ohio-- a 50ft long relief sculpture in the silhouette of the Maumee River made in blue, green and purple plastic objects. Ganz will be working with two other artists. The style of this particular sculpture, she notes, is similar to her own work.  The project starts in June with completion by mid-August. 
At the end of the day, Ganz hopes that viewers of her work will see the beauty and spirit of an imperfect fit. "We do not have to fit together perfectly with the people we love. Even if you see a wide gap in some places and small holes in others, when one steps back and sees the whole community there is still great beauty and harmony there. You do not have to bend and curl and make yourself perfect. There really is a place for everyone to fit in this world."

To learn more about Sayaka Ganz, please visit



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