Grabbing The Rudder

A Q+A with Anya Klepacki on their new show and taking the time to envision a normal you actually want.


Local artist Anya Klepacki’s new show opens Friday in Northampton (details at the bottom), co-editor Will Meyer spoke to them about the future, past, other worlds and normalcy, and all of the tenuous ambiguity in between.

Your last show had to do with the ideas of fantasy and escapism. My understanding is you were positing that in order to find one’s footing during the breakdown of the Western world, one needed to be reacquainted with tools to imagine new ones. If I recall correctly you had a big booklet – an encyclopedia – where you collected these different worlds, not because they were deterministic blueprints but because they might be useful in assisted dreaming. Additionally, you had a big fort (a liminal space devoted to fantasizing and dreaming) with beautiful fabric walls that people went inside of and played with cuddly avant-garde monster stuffies you made. In many ways, you were asking viewers to also be participants, to actively make their own adventure — their own fantasy space. Is this right? What was the role of the participant in co-creating a different reality? 

Looking back, the previous show was really centered on fantasies and escapism on the personal scale, though it started poking at a collective imagining too. Many pieces in the last show were reflections of imagined characters living in their own separate realities, characters that had different strengths and were able combat structural impediments to vibrant life in almost superhero like fashion, in ways that wouldn’t fly in this world… like with swordplay combined with acrobatic feats to stop bad actors in their path, rather than, say, have to try to take them to court while fucked up shit still happens to you as the “justice” system crawls along. I’m talking here about the illustrations on the walls… and to a certain extent, the clothes that asserted various values in writing. The idea with the clothes was that I’d be able to just put on some costume and instantly embody and become steadfast in maintaining these ideal values I want to see in the world (they’re also easy to scoff at from a jaded perspective, and the point was also to out the people too cynical to allow themselves to want something really good for everyone… but without leaning into and coming back to these desires, what rudder do we even have to navigate the harshness of this world?) In the last show I did a lot of trying to turn myself inside out and bring into the spotlight some ways I wish myself and others could be in this world, or sometimes just different ways with different physics, pushing against the physical and social constraints of this world. I was hoping to illicit a reflection in people of their own dream versions of actors and behaviors, to encourage people to let themselves consider what ways of being they might aspire to, instead of focusing on the feeling of just trying to stay standing every day. The fantasy-spaces encyclopedia was just what you said, meant to be a survey tool to encourage people who might feel stuck or lost trying to get in touch with their own ideals or dream realities, to give heart with real-world examples of people deciding to bring into the world what they want, to make their own space and become their own ideal actors. The way I thought about the show was really a balance of fantasy actors and fantasy settings (miniature worlds), with a heavier emphasis on the actor part, and thus encouraging viewers to participate by leaning into themselves to grasp personal desires. This part two show is more focused on the collective reflection around fantasy settings, and what type of settings we might end up in if we don’t decide to grab the rudder back in the ways that we can.

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You grew up here in New England (not its original name, of course), which has been shaped by a kind of repressed, puritan vibe that can feel dull and unchanging. The idea of a future here, at least to me, can feel kinda stuck in the past. In many ways, both the project of your show, and of your life more broadly, is to forge a future that resists that. You have created many fantasy spaces, not just in your art but everywhere you go — your art mirrors the spaces you create in your life and vice versa. Can you speak to how your art fits into the framework of the house you’re building, Rust Temple and so on? 

It’s a really interesting tension to me between the past and future, one I haven’t really spent that long reflecting on in the specifics of this place and the history here, but I’m excited to think more on it moving forward… I think for me there are some really desirable elements and ways of being from the past that I totally envision coming back into resurgence in the future out of necessity (maybe they’re totally rosy visions of deluded nostalgia rather than desirable in their own time).. speaking here of more low-tech lifestyles, less reliance on super extended supply chains, a revised connection to and respectful celebration of the richness of the land in the Connecticut River Valley, and slower and less energy intensive means of transportation and more localized scopes of roaming on the daily. One of the new pieces for this show is one depiction of some life more like that one… A key recurring element in the fantasy spaces I imagine for the future, and spaces I’m attempting to work on now, is the lessening of institutional oversight—the loosening of restrictions from abstracted authorities, and the return to more individual freedom to act and bring to light your desires—but coupled with community and personal level accountability. I think if you rely on authoritarian oversight to keep things a certain way you get people who follow by blindly adoring authority (bootlickers), ambivalent sheeple, and people who disobey sneakily out of resentment… but you can only get people voluntarily maintaining something if they have a sense of responsibility, agency and trust coming from a place of love and believing in it as a whole. That’s what we’re experimenting with at Rust Temple and where I’m living, and it’s always an evolving learning process. The authoritarian and fear-based history of Puritan life in New England maintains such a subtle yet cold grasping claw of death around the throat of the place, at least for settler descendants and the places they built, but there are much, much longer histories woven into the land here of Nipmuc and Pocumptuc peoples, of other ways of being that I can’t speak much on but have to believe were and are not built on shame and fear but maybe a sense of belonging to a people and a place, and thus maybe a sense of freedom coupled with accountability to your community values that could steer you well. I’ve been learning recently about how to “read the landscape” of New England forests to discern at least the visibly remaining history of them, and the dispelling of the myth of a totally wild place encountered by settlers… that in many places the land was instead carefully managed in a “parklike” fashion by the twice yearly burning of understory brush, keeping bottom levels of forests open and abundant in fire-loving blueberry bushes and leafy nutritious nitrogen fixing plants to support game with giant old overstory nut producing trees towering over everything, a veritable food forest heaven for people and wildlife. I find very weird the mental dichotomy in New England and many places of the unceasing desire to assert dominance of civilization over the workings of the landscape and its wild inhabitants vs. leaving them entirely untouched, instead of wanting to understand and work with your surroundings fruitfully… but I am rambling here. All this is to say I think we have to be looking back to more sustainable and manageable ways of being in our landscapes to ensure any kind of future in them, and consider how we can find our way back to being steered by the desire to be good to each other instead of fear of punishment.

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This new show, debuting on Friday at the Anchor House of Artists in Northampton, is a sequel to the last one. But it is also a departure — from my elementary understanding after visiting your studio, you are asking a more nuanced question: if shit really hits the fan (that much harder) and retrograde forms of feudal capitalism become multi-planetary, then what? You’re asking what are the spaces — however ephemeral — of joy, resistance, and subversion within the world we inhabit? 

I’m really asking here for us to reflect on the paths we’re choosing step by step to continue along now, either totally ignorantly, complacent zannied out zombie-like, or with a frothing obsessive vigor, and envision where that might take us in the long game. It’s long been the fodder of sci-fi works to show a future where we “end up” from selfish decisions of a ruling elite class and the general complacent malaise of everyone else, as a scary cautionary-tale departure from some envisioned place we could build our way to if we take steps intentionally and together. As long as I can remember having formulated thoughts about my surroundings I’ve felt keenly the sensation of living right along the takeoff of an exponential graph—witnessing changes in production quality, quantity and location, changes in food production and an increasingly globalized supply chain, changes in energy sources to ever more extreme extraction, witnessing the introduction of cellphones and the internet and computers into the home and now tech’s role in many people’s lives, social media’s creation to “connect” us and institutional and governmental surveillance etc. etc. etc… Maybe every generation feels this way, but especially with climate chaos already occurring in many places and documentable changes everywhere else it feels like now more than ever is our last chance to grab the rudder and steer ourselves somewhere we actually want and can maintain for future generations, before we’re locked in by too much chaos to steer meaningfully towards alternatives. All that said, even in the bleakest of times I think wherever a community is, one with real connection and trust in each other, there emerges the will to thrive and enjoy things together beyond the will to simply survive… so anywhere where a community can be formed is a potential place for joy and collective power to make things happen. The piece envisioning a future where Amazon has bought the moon for production staging and is populated by a colorless slave labor force, cyborg armed guard dogs, a few elite astronauts touring the facilities, envisions a future fully sucked dry of joy, but I imagine even then that the workers waiting to enter the factory are passing notes and stories before their shift.

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I was specifically thinking about the piece about Miami. Can you describe it? What’s happening, and what are the contradictions within it? 

That one was an interesting experience for me while making it. In attempting to depict a bleak future coming sooner to us possibly than, say, the moon piece, I found myself inserting community power and joy even then. The piece depicts a semi-boarded up high rise apartment building with the bottom several floors fully underwater, reflecting on Miami doubling down on construction even as sea levels are projected to rise to levels making these new developments unlivable. I intended to depict a very desperate scene of survival, how in that future people might still use the building out of fucked up necessity. Instead of having access to solid land anymore, with the buildings becoming their own autonomous islands, I imagined that everyone would have lifeboats suspended above their windows that they’d lower down on a pulley system to get around. But as I added people to the scene sitting on their window sills I positioned them to be having all these interactions from their perches and a sort of vibrant community emerged, with gossip and connection and people just hanging their laundry out to dry. I guess my subconscious belief in the inherent strength of individuals in community came through against my conscious agenda—I think my awareness of real-world examples of people creating community in desperate situations, like the amazing and bleak Kowloon Walled City, unconsciously took over to assert that strength. That was a nice, sort of cathartic moment for me.

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Oftentimes, the future is displayed as binary. On one side, you have a piece about Jeff Bezos’ slave colony in space; on the other, you have a lush terrarium filled with a hiking trail [AK: nah that’s the depiction of a commuter rail where bicycle is the accepted form of transportation], mushrooms, people chilling—a natural utopia of sorts. Yet, perhaps the future is more ordinary. Thinking about Miami, I went back to look at Sarah Miller’s essay about real estate there, and she describes these flimsy pumps used to flush out the water of the semi-flooded city as they’re needed, like a landlord patching a hole with duct-tape. Although the future gets progressively worse, band-aid fixes help us adapt, life goes on, and we find ourselves living in a normal future, not far from the present. Do you see this as likely? 

I think that, to my limited data-based understandings, we are in a period of exponentially increasing change, but the phenomenon of the experience of time as we age help keep things feeling consistent… both on the day to day scale, and over time. Like how the more you’ve lived, the shorter periods of time marked by things feel, like months, seasons in each year, etc. As my grandmother told me the other night, when I wondered what we would do if Trump is elected again and nothing is done to combat climate chaos (and fossil fuel production ramped up instead), and she answered that, at 90 now, she knows we’ll just keep living every day. That one caused a lot of dissonance for me, because while it’s true we live each day and hope to live a long time, and people have and continue to live through insane periods of war and turmoil in history, climate chaos presents the imminent profound change to daily life and the functioning of our globalized world as we know it, something a lot of older folks I hear just refuse acknowledge. And then there’s the opportunist climate capitalist organizations sprouting up to maintain profitability on the back of chaos, and that’s another story… As I found myself depicting in the Miami scene, I believe normalcy creeps in in every situation if it lasts long enough, or changes slow or discreetly enough. That doesn’t mean that to look at snapshots of things will show less change; on the contrary I suspect that the snapshots will show the real drastic change our daily life brains can’t keep the space to be conscious of. Like logging industries slowly eating away at state owned forests for “biomass” burning, and looking at pictures of the land before and decades later, or the buildup of garbage in the oceans and washing up on the shores of island nations, or icebergs melting, or the changes in how we communicate daily with social media and texting, and so so so many other things we all have agreed are just the way things are now. So anything could be normal if you let it, but that’s where I think we have to realize that we get to decide, to a certain extent, what we want that normal to be, and have to start asserting ourselves, making changes, demanding changes, however incremental, to get ourselves there. And we can’t decide what we want normal to be without taking the time to envision it.

Lastly, when can people see the show? How long will it be up? 

It opens this Friday, 2/7 from 5-8:30pm! My partner DJ Meatcomputer will be dishing up hot tracks drawing you into sonic fantasy spaces, there will be some snacks but if people wanna bring anything that’s great too! There’s another group opening for all 3 shows up at Anchor House in February on the next Friday – Valentines Day & Arts Night Out, same time. The other shows will be hosting awesome performances every Friday and a video screening and panel discussion during the month as well (full schedule and descriptions at http://anyaklepacki.party .) On Thursday the 20th from 5-7pm I’ll be hosting a loosely facilitated community discussion in the tent, like last year, for people to reflect together on the worlds we want to build and how we might get there. The show will be up for the month of February. Thanks Will!


Will Meyer is co-editor of The Shoestring. See our previous coverage of Klepacki’s work here.

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