Traveling exhibit stops at CFA’s Asian Arts Gallery

Courtesy of Sayaka Kajita Ganz
By: Grace Hebron, Contributing Writer


CFA’s Asian Arts Gallery welcomed artist Sayaka Kajita Ganz’s traveling exhibition, “Reclaimed Creations,” with a “meet the artist” gathering and opening reception on Sept. 19. 

Ganz, who cultivates welded animal forms from reclaimed plastic, visited Towson University to share her creative philosophy, rooted in the Shinto-animistic belief that souls reside in objects both animate and inanimate.

For Ganz, the road to plastic was paved with metal. She began collecting, cleaning and welding sculptures from discarded pieces of metal from a courtyard as a student at Indiana University. 

“I would just have such a great time going through it and finding treasures that kind of looked like parts of animals,” said Ganz, who continued making metal sculptures for five years after graduating, until one day, plastic called her. 

“At the thrift store, I just came across this bag full of yellow, plastic chain,” she said. “I think it was for a children’s swing set or something.”

Ganz used the chain to create a yellow swan, from which she later salvaged the head, neck, and portions of the wings to create “Phoenix Rising from the Ashes,” an installation featured in “Reclaimed Creations.” Unlike other pieces featured in the exhibit, it’s what Ganz describes as a “second incarnation,” of a bird she had previously sculpted. She typically refrains from altering a finished work, including the shape or color of any plastic used for welding, a culmination of 50-plus bins of color-sorted materials amassed over a ten-year period.  

“I tend to start with the idea of an animal and then I find the colors to describe it,” Ganz said. Her intent is to mimic the colors found in nature, leaving room for slight exaggeration in pieces like “The Bird of Paradise,” which Ganz  describes as being bright “Chinese red with yellow.”

“Those colors are more muted in nature, but still there,” she said. “They’re mostly reddish-brown bodied and then they have yellow heads, but maybe not so bright as I made.”

Other pieces, like “Red Cheetah Running,” use color more interpretively.

“The cheetah, I made red because of the sense of speed and movement that I wanted to

communicate,” Ganz said.

Fifth year design major, Patricia Elia, praised the whimsical, fun and immersive elements of Ganz’ work.

 “The sculptures themselves are so striking, but her attitude towards the process is almost as striking, if not more, than the beauty in her forms,” said Elia. “I think she really responds to the qualities of the plastic and uses it to execute a vision that’s in line with what the plastic already is.”

It’s important to Ganz that that the individual pieces of plastic maintain an authentic voice, even  in animal form. A look at any given sculpture in “Reclaimed Creations,” reveals plastic flatware in various states; from slotted spoons and spatulas to hand-clappers. Even remnants of a George Foreman grill can be found in Ganz’ sculpture of a whale, welded with blue plastic to be looked at as if through water. 

Senior illustration major Chris Lins described his fascination with the lifelike quality of  Ganz’ work. 

“[The sculptures are] all understandable and realistic enough to tell the animal just from sight, even though it’s an amalgamation of these other pieces,” Lins said.  

Lins was struck by the polar bear sculptures, which appear to be moving through water from where they hang in the center of the gallery.

“Usually, I want to create the impression of the animal being alive and in some kind of motion,”  Ganz said.  

The artist attempts to simulate sideways movement in her sculptures with a combination of diagonal lines, like the ones found in plastic coat hangers, which Ganz uses to create almost every piece.

“They’re made to mimic our shoulders, so they can also describe other body parts of the animals,” she said. 

Plastic coat hangers are visible in Ganz’ sculptures of horses (relics of childhood riding lessons inspired by the photography of Edward Muybridge) and in her polar bears, which show the visible yellowing and toll of sun damage on plastic.

“The same thing kind of happens to the [fur of] polar bears,” Ganz said, calling the animals  “[…]icons of the dire environmental state that we’re in right now.”

Ganz expects environmental crisis to cross the minds of those who view her work, but she doesn’t want consciousness to come from a place of sadness or guilt.

“When we feel like we are being accused of something, we feel very defensive and our heart kind of closes and we feel very disempowered,” she said. “When we can open our hearts more, then I think we can start to care more, and that’s more important for us to be able to make a positive change.”

Ganz sees plastic as her teacher and hopes to honor each piece by returning it to earth as a happy animal, not stepping away until she can see them smiling.

“If they look like they are happy and alive, then I’m finished with the piece,” she said.

“Reclaimed Creations,” is on display in the CFA Asian Arts Gallery through Dec. 8.

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