Art, Interviews, Upcycling
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Interview: Sayaka Ganz | Artist

Japanese-born artist Sayaka Ganz says she grew up with the Shinto animist belief that everything in the world has a spirit. ‘When I see discarded items on the street or thrift store shelves, I feel a deep sadness for them and am moved to make these abandoned objects happy’. And how happy she makes them!

Using this philosophy, she has perfected the art of re-imagining basic household plastic items into incredibly life-like and animated animals and birds. Her goal: to ‘recognise the existing aesthetic values of these objects and assemble them in such a way that highlights the beauty and value that are already there but often overlooked’.

Come and meet Sayaka …

Tell us a bit about your background and how you’ve ended up where you are today.

I was born in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan in 1976. My family moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil when I was nine-years-old and we lived there for almost five years. We went back to Japan when I was thirteen, then moved to Hong Kong when I was seventeen. I graduated from high school in Hong Kong and came to the United States to attend university. Up until high school I had never graduated from the same school I started in. All these re-locations have affected my thinking. They made me flexible and also crave a sense of belonging. I get great comfort from fitting things together, perhaps partially because of these experiences.

I went to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana and received a BFA in Printmaking. I met my husband while in Bloomington and we got married and moved to Fort Wayne. I taught art classes at Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne for several years, then went back to school to get an MFA in 3D Studies at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Shortly after returning to Fort Wayne I quit my teaching job to make art full time.


You say on your website that you have thirty bins filled with plastic objects you plan to use. What’s the appeal of plastic?

I need to give you an update on my collection: I think I now have close to fifty bins. The objects that we use around the house are often designed to fit our hands or body and have beautiful curvilinear forms. I love putting odd shapes and forms together like a puzzle, so these objects work very well. I also like all the colours they come in, and that there are subtle variations in the colours within each spectrum.


‘Embrace’, environmental art commission at Port Canaveral, Florida.

Depicting animals from plastic junk on a large scale and in motion sounds quite an undertaking and what you create ends up being incredibly beautiful. Tell us about your creative process – how do you like to work, what inspires you?

I like to think of these objects as having very human qualities, each having different shapes and a different history. Some are bent, burned, stained or cracked. Each possesses a primary visual direction – long and linear pieces becoming almost like an arrow and more spherical or circular pieces more static, wanting to remain where they are. When I put these into a sculpture it almost feels like trying to persuade a group of people to do something together. Some are very stiff and stubborn, some are flexible and pliable. Some areas will have very close connections between objects and others will have huge gaps. But with all the small gaps and cracks and stains the piece still looks beautiful when you step back and look at it, as long as the overall orientation of the linear objects creates a single visual flow. If we can share a vision, even if the details don’t become completely seamless we can do something beautiful together.


What would be your dream project or have you already done it?

I don’t really have a dream project I’m striving to achieve. Every project becomes a dream project in a sense that once I have a specific vision of what I want to create then it becomes something I yearn to realise. I think that because my family moved so many times when I was young, the message I received was that long-term planning doesn’t really work for me. There are always unknown factors that change everything about my situation, so I’m better off not worrying about the future. I have my core values, I have an idea of the kind of person I would like to be in the world, so I do my best to stay aligned to those values.


‘Dusk and Dawn’ private commission.

What are some of your important tools of trade?

A cordless drill, angle grinder, welder, and band saw are the power tools I use most frequently and are essential to my studio practice.

Tell us about the importance of upcycling and sustainability for you?

I don’t like the word ‘upcycling’. Sustainability is better for me. Upcycling implies that the value of an item is increased by what the person does to it, but this places a strong focus on monetary value. I think of what I do as recognising the existing aesthetic values of these objects and assembling them in such a way that highlights the beauty and value that are already there but often overlooked.


What are you working on at the moment and/or tell us about any big projects you might have coming up?

I’m working on a few large sculptures of horses and a cheetah. Today I’m ordering metal rods for armatures and tomorrow I will be starting to weld.

Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?

My life is so full of them, it’s hard to choose one. Growing up I never thought I would marry another artist. It wasn’t our intention to stay in Indiana after college but I have come to really love where I live. I never thought I would become interested in installation art, or that I would ever have a dog. I really wanted a dog as a child but my family moved and travelled too much to have pets, and now I still travel a lot.


Sayaka also works with scrap metal

Thanks so much, Sayaka, for giving us an insight into your work!

You can find Sayaka on her website and on Facebook.

Visit the Who'd Have Thought store

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