A Bird Made of Plastic Forks? Yesterday's Picnic Utensils Are Today's Fine Art

A Bird Made of Plastic Forks? Yesterday's Picnic Utensils Are Today's Fine Art

Julie Leibach
Published: 08/23/2012


Japonica. This is the oldest completed sculpture in Ganz's style that uses plastic objects. It depicts a Japanese crane (or, red-crowned crane) about to take flight. Courtesy of Sayaka Ganz.

In a disposable fork, artist Sayaka Ganz might see a wing feather, while a forsaken sandbox shovel transforms into a sea turtle’s flipper. Abandoned plastic objects are, according to Ganz, ideal building materials for sculptures that mimic animals and other natural forms. “The best way for artists to help reduce waste is to show how beautiful these materials can be, and what can be done with [them],” she writes on her website. “When we think of these things as beautiful, we value them. If we value our resources we will waste less.” In this Audubon exclusive, Ganz answers a few questions about her philosophy and artwork.


Close-up of Japonica. Courtesy of Sayaka Ganz.

How does nature influence your work?
Nature inspires me with its power and beauty in the atmosphere and weather, the life energy of animals and trees, and all the mysteries and wonders that surround our lives. I think that one of the important jobs of artists is to bring more of nature back into people's lives. I try to do this by creating animal forms using manmade plastic objects, connecting the natural world and the artificial world together.


Armor. This betta fish is currently on display at the Isetan department store window in Shinjuku, Japan. Courtesy of Sayaka Ganz.

How do you find your construction material?
I use mostly second hand plastic kitchen utensils and toys from thrift shops. I also take donations from people, and occasionally I just find something on the side of the road. I don't buy anything new except for the metal for armature support, paint for the armature, and cable ties. I do not paint the objects, just the armature. I keep the plastic objects sorted by color in storage bins in my studio. Because I do not paint the plastic, they maintain their semi-translucent quality. Even within one color group there is great variety of hues and shades when viewed from up close.


Wayne. Constructed for the Sister Cities International as a gift to the City of Takaoka, in Japan, this bald eagle is named after Fort Wayne, one of Takaoka's sister cities.

Where do you generally display your art?
I exhibit nationally and internationally in museums and galleries, and I work on several commissions of various scales per year. I do sell my sculptures, but so far my exhibitions and sales have been mostly separate.


Ambush. The Fort Wayne Museum of Art commissioned this tiger, which is permanently installed in the building's Imagination Station, an educational wing for children. Its companion piece, "Jungle Sunset" (below), is an abstract wall relief containing the duplicate of every item used in "Ambush." Courtesy of Sayaka Ganz.

How do you choose the animals you depict?
When it is left up to me I often select an animal that has a very distinct motion. Horses, for instance, have a very powerful motion, with a surge of energy traveling forward in their gallop, their mane and tails trailing behind. Some birds are known to dive and swim, some skim the surface of the water, some glide and soar. I find it more interesting when I can describe the motion through the use of plastic objects rather than merely depicting the anatomical forms.

Currently I work mostly on commission projects and exhibitions, and I am always very happy to work with my clients' interest. If my client has a special fondness for a certain species of animals it is my joy to create what in my mind represents the essence of that specific animal. When I plan a project or an exhibition the location can also influence my decision. For example, next year I am planning a wildlife research project and an exhibition on the Isle of Man that is partially funded by the Indiana Arts Commission. I have been to the Isle of Man once before, and when I was there, the birds left a very strong impression on my mind. Whether I was taking a walk on the beach or driving somewhere, there were always so many birds nearby. They have unique species such as Manx shearwater and puffins, as well as razorbills, red kites, cormorants, and gulls. Working off this impression, I will be creating a new series of birds for this exhibition.


Wisdom and Teardrop (below). This albatross and leatherback sea turtle part of a four-sculpture series commissioned by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. Courtesy of Sayaka Ganz.

How do you title your pieces, such as the eagle named “Wayne”?
I usually give a one-word name to my sculptures that feels appropriate to me, and they tend to be words that describe the motion or something in nature. I do not give cute sounding pet names because these are not pet animals. Even when I make a dog, I do not think of it as a pet. I made “Wayne” for the Sister Cities International as a gift to the City of Takaoka, in Japan, one of the sister cities to Fort Wayne, Indiana. "Wayne," therefore, is from "Fort Wayne" and "General Anthony Wayne.”

Do you have a favorite species or type of animal?
There are so many I love it is impossible to choose one!