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Amy Yoshitsu

Immigrant, Marginalized Community, Installation, Photography, Sculpture, Decolonization



Hero Image: We Made It (San Bernardino County, CA), Amy Yoshitsu, 2021. Archival Inkjet Print Mounted on Aluminum, 24” x 18.5”.

Since 2015, I have created photo-based sculptures made of photographs I have taken in places I have lived and visited. As an Asian-American, I identify as being of the diaspora and a product of assimilation culture. I believe what we see around us—the landscape and buildings, the types of labor and activities, the aesthetic and technological choices and conditions—plays a role in who we are while our lineages inform how we make sense of it all. I have lived my life walking and weaving within urban spaces of the US while psychologically contending with generational traumas, motherlands (China and Japan) as simultaneously foreign and integrated, and my own position within histories of speculation, hierarchical race creation, and colonialism. By photographing and sewing together places from all over the world that I have occupied or inhabited, I create sculptures honoring the manifestations of histories, shared needs, and connected conditions. The resulting sculptures are psychogeographic maps that miniaturize and deconstruct structured space—a product of human labor, the authority of financialization, and modern survival.

A central theme of my work is the toxic—and ultimately futile—desire for control, and its resulting hierarchical structures borne from human fear and trauma. The amalgamation of twisted and contorted images of human-built interventions displayed on delicate, biodegradable material speaks both to the fragility of our physical world and to the swirl of emotions and ideas entangled in our complex society. The placements of these objects, in both real and distorted manners into public and infrastructural landscapes, ask the viewer to consider the details of their surroundings, the inequitable structures that provide our everyday lives, and that our attempts to control each other and our environments are at the core of the crisis.

In 2021, I started the series "Construct" by digitally re-installing my photo-based sculptures at a large scale both to manifest a goal for this body of work and to reinforce the sculptures’ function as portraits of our contemporary complexities encompassing gentrification, environmental depression, physical markers of bootstrap ideology. In placing the sculptures in infrastructural locations, they act as collective sit-ins and reminders that if we engage and change systemic forces, we could gain a human-centric future. Each site spotlights the process — the foundational means by which capitalism directs us to accomplish the tasks that make up our lives. The resulting surreal images reinforce the need for unprecedented perspectives and approaches in the face of entrenched systems.

Artist Interview

Q: In this new edition of the UAAD online magazine, we're exploring the theme of "[Matrix] of the [Not-Yet]." How would you interpret these two words, and how do you see your work aligning with the concepts of [Matrix] and [Not-Yet]?

I associate the word “Matrix” with the systems, rules, designed pathways, and parameters through which we all navigate. I interpret “Not Yet” to sit in the realms of inevitable futures, speculative alternatives, and scenarios almost within grasp.

I see my practices as situated within and between both of these ideas. Whether I am making work about the built landscape, the US tax system, or contributing to the workers' co-op I co-founded, Converge Collaborative, my works engage with the physical, economic, racialized, gendered, and social systems we are born into while also searching for another way.

I often shorthand the focus of my work to “infrastructure” as a way to encompass the actions, the iconographies, and the concepts embedded in what facilitates our shared and inequitable experiences, narratives, and conditions. Images of sidewalks, pylons, and electrical panels act as signposts for the many matrices that become more visible in public spaces. I manipulate these images with the intention of highlighting that everything in our world is fragile, can be surreal, and is built from human processes of power and decision-making. The series “Construct,” in which I digitally re-install my sculptures into infrastructure landscapes, is especially interested in offering alternate ways to think about, see, and make conjectures about our now and our futures.

Q: We are very interested in the trajectory of your creative practices and their connection to the theme. Could you provide us with a little more information about your background?

I was born, raised, and currently live in Berkeley, CA. My parents were both artists, and I intimately know the challenges of economic insecurity, time scarcity, and being marginalized and racialized when pursuing a life of and living from creativity. My upbringing taught me to have an acute awareness of the perspective of others, the labor and resources required to make anything exist, and the precarity of our capitalist world.

When I started creating work, I did not have to look far to determine my subjects and interests. I was immediately drawn to sculptures and installations as conceptual siblings to fire hydrants and telephone poles. Following that train of thought, I started understanding infrastructural objects as representations of the systems of categorization and hierarchy, which I was unpacking to understand my own conditions and positions.

To care for myself and my family, I started working as a digital designer. My work in visual systems and interface creation as a web and product designer aligned with the way my brain thought about sculpture—always balancing the technical, aesthetic, and potential experiential aspects. My rollercoaster of experiences as a designer greatly influenced my perspective as an artist and how I create physical work. This led to the co-creation of Converge Collaborative. My collaborative contributions to and learnings from the cooperative, both internally and with clients, are often in conversation with my sculptural practice.

Q: The creators participating in this magazine work across various mediums, including moving images, interactive installations, music composition, etc. What factors influence your choice of medium for your works?

Most of the sculptures and installations I make combine sewing and/or fibers, digital process and laborious manual creation. I was taught to sew by my mother and paternal grandmother at a very young age and the method has always spoken to me as the most meaningful way to join together separate objects. When two pieces of textile, paper, plastic are sewn together, the thread weaves through each material independently while also holding them adjacent to each other and without any medium between.

My deep familiarity with digital tools often means that my early-middle process steps involve some form of planning and/or standardization within Adobe products and Figma.

I love exploring materials and also keep all remnants of my practice. I am currently working on two projects, one in which I am making textile from single use plastic, and another series of sculptures incorporating debris from my personal and artistic actions. In aligning with my conceptual interests, my materials also involve hardware store finds, construction materials and found objects.

Q: How does your work reflect or actively engage with the cultural and social dynamics of your community or the communities you interact with? Are there elements in your art that seek to bridge, disrupt, or transform these dynamics?

My work is tied to my relationship with my own lineages carrying diaspora, immigration, internalized white supremacy, colonialism, and assimilation. I believe what we see (public spaces), what we do (taxes and labor), and our relationships (to ourselves, our families, community members) are many of the building blocks that make us who we are. I also believe our lineages (at least partially) inform how we interpret, make sense of, and feel about the intricacies of navigating our complex realities.

My personal perspective is imbued with inherited and intergenerational trauma, shame, and isolationist coping mechanisms. I make my work as a method toward my own healing. I also hope that my work—by grounding viewers in what might be considered assumed, overlooked, or under-considered—inspires viewers to re-look and reconsider their personal narrative and its relation to the patterns of our interconnected world. While some demographics are more strongly associated with the aspects I have named in my lineage, I know we are all connected to and affected by these forces.

I use materiality, scale, distortion, and abstraction to offer these ideas to viewers in non-linear, potentially somatic manners.

Q: What real-world strategies or methodologies do you employ in your art practice to manifest your visions of the future? How do these tactics serve as forms of resistance or intervention within the current socio-political landscape?

In my sculptures and installations, I reinforce the fragility of and the historical contexts that lead to the existence of my subjects and what I am making visible. My work comes out of my own process to demystify my heritages and experiences. I hope that by critically looking at the present and integrating the past, we can collectively build futures with more empathy, integrity, and articulation about the why and the how.

Q: How do you hope your work impacts its viewers or participants, particularly in terms of rethinking potential futures or alternate realities? Who do you perceive as your audience?

My work is an offering to family and ancestors, who may never see nor engage with it. I hope those who can connect to experiences of otherness and shame, and histories of systemically inflicted, power-over conditions can integrate an offering from the work into their own processes of self, past, present, and future narratives.

I am always considering viewers’ accessibility when conveying the layered concepts and emotions embedded in my work's focuses: capitalism, race, and assimilation. My sculptures incorporate photographs I have taken of buildings, gates, sewer and electrical covers, pylons, etc., forming a visual language of our shared global environment. I weave in universally recognizable materials such as wires, used plastic bags, and fabric—often detritus of my life and practice. By treating imagery and materials associated with public life and the basics of contemporary existence as raw materials, I seek to give any viewer identifiable touchstones to which they can bring their own associations as starting points.

Q: As a creator, what do you see as the threats or uncertainties we will face in the coming decade?

If we continue on the current trajectory, not only will our physical and environmental conditions keep getting worse, but the inequitable distribution of resources will drive further destruction, trauma, and misunderstanding. None of these conditions facilitate thriving life, let alone creativity.

I believe all humans need some creative outlet, but I worry that the power, money, and value systems are constantly moving further and further away from the vast spectrum of creative practices, skills, and methods that humanity has developed. Appreciation for and engagement with all types of creative expression may be threatened as more resources are placed into efficiency toward wealth hoarding and the maintenance of zero-sum and scarcity-driven systems.

Q: What motivates you to continue creating as an artist?

As I have mentioned, my creative practices are essential elements of my personal healing. On conceptual, psychological, and emotional levels, I still have many ideas I want to unpack. One of my WIP projects, my "Mind Map," has helped me untangle how one creation can speak to each part of the many interconnected concepts I want to explore and share. Materially, visually, and physically, there are still so many creations I want to see outside of my mind.

Q: Are there any theories, books, or artists you would like to recommend in your current areas of interest?

"Racecraft" by Barbara and Karen Fields
"The Whiteness of Wealth" by Dorothy Brown
"Afro Asia" edited by Fred H. and Bill V. Mullen
"Capitalist Realism" by Mark Fisher
"Racial Melancholia, Racial Distortion" by David L. Eng and Shinhee Han
"Emergent Strategy" by adrienne maree brown

Q: If you could create an art piece with unlimited resources and no constraints, how would it look like, and why?

The digital re-installations in the series “Construct” ["The City of the Pylon" (Solano County, CA), "No Right Way" (Carquinez Bridge Toll Plaza), "We Made It" (San Bernardino, CA)] started out, and continue to be, manifestations of installations I would like to create in the landscape. My dream has been to create such interventions with biodegradable material that, as it becomes worn over time, releases native wildflower seeds. I would also like the project to involve multiple soundscapes and conversations mimicking the entangled imagery.

About the Artist

Amy Yoshitsu (b. 1988), she/they, is a sculptor, designer, and socially engaged artist living and working in her hometown, Berkeley, CA. Yoshitsu’s work has been shown across the US and internationally. Their recent solo exhibition, “Amy Yoshitsu: Hedges and Ledgers,” was on view at Satchel Projects (Chelsea, NYC) in 2023. Yoshitsu’s work has been included in group shows at Manifest Gallery (Cincinnati, OH), Pyramid Atlantic Art Center (Hyattsville, MD), Herter Gallery (UMass Amherst), and Berkeley Art Center (Berkeley, CA). In 2010, Yoshitsu received an A.B. in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard University and then attended the MFA Art program at California Institute of the Arts. Yoshitsu has been in residency at the Vermont Studio Center, the Artist Residency Project at the School of Visual Arts, Esalen Institute, and Kala Art Institute. Yoshitsu is a co-creator of Converge Collaborative, a POGM (people of the global majority) workers co-op and artist collective.

©2024 Underground Art And Design LLC | ISSN 2835-284X

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