Off a laneway behind a vast hardware store, Kasia Tons’ Kent Town studio is hidden away from the urban world. While most of the activity in this warehouse turned co-working space occurs above, in a converted mezzanine, Tons prefers to work down below, in a nook below the stairs filled with colourful objects and textiles.

“I started up there in a smaller space, but I’ve got so much stuff that by the time it was all in there, I didn’t have room to work.”

Panoply – a “soft, homely bubble” – was recently exhibited at Melbourne Design Week. Photo: Aubrey Jonsson

Her work is spread out beneath the stairs, from blue, turmeric and teal fabrics draped on a line to a bundle of bullrush seeds hanging from the scaffold-like ceiling.

Much of Tons’ recent work has been grounded, informed by nature, material conditions, and humanity. Hanging on an old dressmaker’s mannequin is a recent work called Panoply, which she exhibited at Melbourne Design Week. Described as a “soft, homely bubble”, Panoply is inspired by the ways in which humans are left physically and mentally vulnerable through natural and human-caused upheaval.

“That’s probably something that’s very close to my core interest ­– shelter, or being suddenly without a home, or in an emergency, and needing safety. That’s something I’m going to expand on. I’ve got a real thing for shelters – I know it doesn’t look like a shelter.”

Panoply’s pinks and yellows, and its quilted, tessellating shapes, have a fleshy, almost biological quality; it’s a wearable object that seems poised to wrap around the subject like an extension of the body. There’s a sense of comfort, but also an otherworldliness informed by Tons’ love of futurism and science fiction. She’s planning to use those bullrush seeds as wadding for the next iteration.

Questions of shelter – and insulation – influence Tons’ life in more immediate ways. With a thick pink puffer jacket and a warm cup of tea ready to hand, she admits her corner of the warehouse has been pretty cold over the last few weeks of blustery weather. But at least it doesn’t leak – unlike her current home.

“I’ve got a little yurt – it’s probably smaller than this,” she explains. “I’ve got four containers set up to catch the drips at the moment.

“It’s in Lenswood; it’s on a family property. I’ve got solar panels, and a composting toilet, and [I’m] trying to grow veggies.

“I just got back to Adelaide before the pandemic, so I’ve been in the yurt for a year, and I was in a tent, about four different tents, before that. They kept flooding, collapsing.”

Kasia Tons works in a nook below the stairs in a warehouse turned co-working space in Kent Town. Photo: Aubrey Jonsson

Tons moved back to Adelaide after 15 years away that most recently included stints in Alice Springs and the remote community of Yuendumu. After a few life changes – including the adoption of a sweet but very anxious camp dog – she was finally ready to come home.

Tons’ textile work After was a finalist in the 2021 Ramsay Art Prize. She worked on that piece while trekking around New Zealand just before the pandemic, carrying the bundled canvas as she roamed the back country. Today, the studio is centred around another large embroidery-in-progress.

“I’ve realised after a few years that my embroideries are often the blueprint of a work; when you’re reading stuff, and interested in lots of things, it’s a place to put all those ideas.

“It’s a way to figure out and process what I’m on about, to keep track. I get a bit anxious thinking about how I’m going to do [a body of work], but if I’ve got my hands moving at least I feel like I’m doing something.”

Kasia works through her ideas stitch by stitch. Photo: Aubrey Jonsson

Many of the ideas she’s working through stitch by stitch came from research undertaken in the library of the State Herbarium, as part of Guildhouse’s Collections Project.

“I started off researching traditional uses of plants, for medicinal, spiritual and cultural uses. That formed the basis of looking into the future, of how we might exist, and use plants; now it’s a kind of mish-mash of the problematic relationship of the West, primarily with the environment, and its exploitation. How it always benefits humans – a human-centric way of decision-making.”

Materials, artworks and photos of her creations are spread throughout Kasia Tons’ busy workspace. Photo: Aubrey Jonsson

As she reflects on the anthropocene in her art, her unconventional home also gives her a chance to let nature make its presence felt in her life, instead of the other way around.

“I mean, it’s not like I’m forced to live that way,” she says. “But, I guess, having a level of discomfort or simplicity, I think it’s healthy for me. I often feel too stagnant in a proper house.

“And that’s what I like; I like to know what’s going on. If I’m in a city environment, it’s a lot of metallic sounds, fake sounds, but in nature, all the sounds are really positive to hear – and be aware of.”

Read more about Kasia Tons’ arts practice on her website. Tons will be presenting a “wearable textile masks and disguises” workshop at ACE Studio Space on July 2 (details here).

In the Studio is a regular series presented by InReview in partnership with not-for-profit organisation Guildhouse. The series shares interesting stories about South Australian visual artists, craftspeople and designers, offering insight into their artistic practices and a behind-the-scenes look at their studios or work spaces. Read our previous stories here.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.