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In early October 2013 two adult whales and one juvenile were carefully loaded onto a moving truck and carried south to the Port Canaveral, Florida. The whales were hung from the ceiling in the vast atrium of the Port Canaveral Welcome Center by artist Sayaka Ganz and her small team of supporters. Each adult whale measures 12 feet long, with the baby coming in at a smaller five. Together they form an installation that makes a powerful visual statement to visitors. Careful observers are quick to notice the vast, mysterious animals are constructed from mundanely familiar materials. Hundreds of castaway items such as plastic spoons, a few coat hangers and even a snow sled make up the outer covering of the sculptures created by the skillful hands of a humble and meticulous Fort Wayne artist. Ganz is a sculptor who explores discarded materials. She turns waste into graceful works of art that cut through space with racing energy. The majority of her pieces honor animals known for heart-thumping speed. Horses with wild, flowing manes, a dashing, aerodynamic cheetah and a rookery of penguins darting under foaming waves are a few of her subjects. Her forms are composed of plastic spatulas and other gadgets collected from area thrift stores. She searches discarded piles for curvilinear forms that lend themselves to the organic slopes found in her subjects. Long, flowing lines are used to create the electric sense of movement.
Ganz’s connection to castoffs is seated in her childhood. Growing up in several different countries, she was forced to adapt to a variety of situations. At an early age she was a flexible thinker ready to survey new situations to figure out how she could fit in. Over and over, childhood challenged Ganz to discover how to connect with others. The experiences left her longing for a sense of purpose. A kindergarten teacher taught Ganz a lesson of Shintoism that made a great impact on her personal philosophy. The lesson said that all objects, alive and non-living, have spirits. When objects are discarded they have feelings of sadness. The thought of this touched Ganz who, as an artist, reclaims these items and gives them new life, hoping to bring them a sense of place and purpose.
Thousands of objects sorted by color into thirty, clear plastic bins, wait in her basement for the opportunity to find purpose as part of Ganz’s work. When she begins a new piece, photographs taken from several angles serve as reference points for Ganz as she builds an armature, or skeleton, from thick aluminum wire, which serves as the foundation for the plastic pieces. To accentuate movement, Ganz carefully chooses long, curved pieces and attaches them to the armature in parallel, overlapping only when she is sure the flow of motion will not be interrupted. She takes time to look closely then steps away, going back and forth, over and over, to ensure the piece takes on a lifelike quality. Ganz is intrigued by the form and shape of animals, but she is even more interested in the shapes an animal makes as it darts, runs, or glides.
“Movement summarizes the fundamental existence of living beings,” she explains.
Bringing new life to the objects she collects gives Ganz a sense of purpose and peace, but within her bins of supplies there are some forms that tend to get passed over. Finding the right home for all of the plastic parts she amasses is a challenge.
“In the animals I look for very specific shapes. There are pieces that get left behind, especially round pieces like cups and bowls. I’d like to come up with an abstract relief using those pieces,” says Ganz who seems to keep her thoughts one step ahead of herself. Many of her misfit parts found a home within the Port Canaveral installation as strands of bubbles and kelp.
“The bubbles and kelp became simplified – very abstract. I made them into mobiles, and a colleague, Jim Mertz, helped me shape the wire so they could move. This idea allowed me to use the objects that I hadn’t been using in the past,” said Ganz. Large installations give her the opportunity to explore new ideas and uses for materials.
A recent stay at an artist residency, The Art Farm, located in Marquette, Nebraska, allowed Ganz to explore a new material: inner tubes from discarded tires. Her interest in the material stems from a pile of rubble pulled from the Maumee River in Fort Wayne. She was asked to develop a sculpture using metal objects pulled from the river during an annual cleaning effort. Not many metal pieces were salvaged, but an alarming load of discarded tires piled up alongside the river.
“There were so many tires – enough to fill a small garage,” said Ganz. “Volunteers pull tires out of the river each year, cleaning up after people who throw them in, thinking that because they are covered and unseen they somehow disappear.” Frustrated by the discovery, Ganz was determined to find a use for the material.
She spent three days of her residency washing and preparing a modest collection of inner tubes. She cut the material with scissors and used a hole-punch to develop a delicate, lacy appearance and was able to transform a heavy, dirty material into something to reflect life and renewal: a tree.
During her time at The Art Farm, Ganz was faced with the burden that waste imposes. With no garbage service, the residency campus is forced to handle every detail of processing its own refuse. Composting, sorting, reusing and recycling all take effort. Ganz explains that when people realize that using a material will create more work and require significant use of personal energy, they tend to consume less. If one obtains an object that can never truly be discarded, the realization forces a person to think deeply before bringing the object into his or her life.
“What I am doing is such a small thing compared to all the waste that exists in the world. I try to remind myself that my job isn’t to change the whole situation but to change a small part of it. I want to help people value materials more,” Ganz explains.
She wants people to realize that living sustainably is more than recycling. It is making a paradigm shift to consider whether or not to bring a new object into one’s life and considering what will happen to that object once it leaves a person’s control.
“If I can make plastic really beautiful, it can change the value of the material,” she says. She isn’t referring to monetary value but rather the value that people place on something as being useful and at a higher level, something to be cherished.
Ganz will soon have a new opportunity to share her passion for sustainability and pass along some of her strategies as she serves as the keynote speaker at the Youth Energy Summit. She will travel to California and speak to young leaders about her work with sustainable art.
During a workshop at the conference Ganz plans to share her Japanese heritage by introducing participants to an old world object, furoshiki. Furoshiki are traditional Japanese wrapping cloths that can be used to transport items as a backpack or service other tasks such as wrapping a gift or storing a collection of objects. Ganz hopes to help young minds think beyond what is familiar to them and to consider deeply how they consume and use materials in both art and throughout daily life.
Ganz’s trip to California follows a whirlwind year that not only took her to Florida to install three whales, but to Italy for a large solo show. She currently has work traveling with an exhibit that will land in Kalamazoo, Michigan in February before continuing to travel through the Midwest on a multi-year tour.
Local collectors interested in Ganz’s work can find small objects at the FWMoA gift shop or visit her website www.sayakaganz.com. While Ganz does commission her work, it is more important to her to show work than it is to sell. Her challenge for the world to treat objects with value so that less waste is produced is most effectively delivered without words, but through her beautiful work in sculpture.