You arrive at Esalen, breathe in the ocean air, and allow yourself space to explore for a weekend. Now, imagine if you were there for weeks, able to unravel the possibilities of life and your life’s work.
Amy Yoshitsu, Esalen’s recent Artist in Residence, remembers that feeling and continues to explore her own potential. “I don’t think I can honestly define my “life’s work” right now,” she told us. “At this stage of my life, I am able to identify what I am currently striving for, and that which I have been and am able to continue contributing. Throughout the whole residency, I was grateful that each day felt so long, so expansive, so full of opportunity.”
Yoshitsu is a multidisciplinary digital creator and sculpture maker who advocates for collective community support as a means for healing and social change. She chatted with us about personal exploration, infrastructure, and the on campus conversations that will add to her next creation.
ESALEN: What were your first impressions when you first arrived?
Amy Yoshitsu: I was stunned by the beauty of the natural land and immediately thought about the labor that produces the verdant compositions within the pathways, gardens and the farm. My senses were also alert to the invitation to let go of the stress and concerns I had been carrying up to that point.
ESALEN: What was your experience of community at Esalen? We understand you interviewed several staff for one of your upcoming works.
AY: I quickly came to identify the people who work AT Esalen as the immediate human infrastructure and the emotional core that grounds visitors or, at least, grounded me during my stay.
I sought to learn about the dreams, desires, challenges and more of those who spend the majority of their days on or near the property and whose current economic and/or physical circumstances are linked to Esalen. In an attempt to recognize and show appreciation for the emotional and physical labor expended by each staff member, I wanted to acknowledge each Esalen employee by listening to their journey, story and perspective. The impetus to interview as many staff as possible came from my interest in the infrastructural objects on the property, which I am still digitally illustrating and will pair with prose and poetry based on the interviews.
ESALEN: What is important to you in your creative work?
AY: I seek to address and validate the negative emotions that can result from acts of performance, compartmentalization, and dissociation driven by the necessity to pay bills and psychologically keep going within our capitalist, white supremacist, and patriarchal society. Through helping us all understand how many of our individual pains are not results of personal flaws but of systemic oppressive systems, acknowledging that there are no simple answers, and being present when listening, I hope to foster solidarity, connectivity and generosity.
ESALEN: What piece of art or other product that you’ve created makes you most proud?
AY: I know that I have yet to create the work that is the result of my ideal process and inputs. As of now, I am most proud of 20XX, a six-year long series of sculptures (and their resulting images) that contort and amalgamate our shared, built environments, which are embedded with histories of society, building through cycles of demolition and consumption. My advantages and ambivalences within global, public spaces are visually synthesized, and literally located, in my hometown area, the East Bay.
ESALEN: What do you think will be the lasting impact of your residency?
AY: From the perspective of an artist engaged in social analysis, Esalen, like nearly every long-standing institution, especially in the US, must reckon with its legacy and identity which is complicated, layered and multi-faceted.
ESALEN: What does transformation (in the spiritual and emotional sense) mean to you? What brings you joy?
AY: My emotional, behavioral and relationship transformations, characterized by acceptance overtaking fear, are often results of intentional processes that include many challenges and periods of self-doubt. In this context, I can usually envision the goal as greater calm and clarity.
ESALEN: What kinds of new rituals/practices did the pandemic inspire you to create?
AY: I am currently working to maintain and keep the positive practices developed in the past year: daily cooking and meal prep; taking time to spend with my partner and enjoy a boba break; being generous around time to others and therefore allowing myself that generosity as well.
ESALEN: What explorations will you carry forward that grew out of your residency?
AY: The residency gave me an opportunity to explore multiple facets of my practice — community building, processing of scholarly work, material experimentation, emphasizing social analysis alongside individual healing.
Despite the challenges of coming back into the “real world”, I am trying to hold on to the feeling of expansiveness and opportunity I had when in the Art Barn. I am currently participating in the Summer Residency Program at the School of the Visual Arts and joining the Firehouse Art Collective in Berkeley in an effort to keep and grow the spark that was well-fueled at Esalen.
If you’re interested in the Artist in Residence program, email us: email@example.com.