In an exhibition of textile, photographic and animated works inspired by E.M Forster’s novel The Machine Stops, Adelaide-based textile artist Kasia Tons explores the human relationship with the natural world and our growing reliance on the utilities and powers of digital technology.
Published in 1909, Forster’s short story describes a futuristic landscape where human life prevails underground controlled by an all-powerful machine. A dystopian land where society lives isolated from one and other and human presence is challenged in the desolate world they once knew. In the end as the title suggests the machine that sustains human existence and interpersonal connection stops. What then?
As we surpass the difficulties of the current world crisis, relying more than ever on technology to survive the new normal, we might wonder if Forster’s century-old futuristic narrative was merely a fantastical notion of a wild imagination, or a carefully considered forecast of a not too distant future. “Who knew that over the course of this year our world would become even closer to the one described in the book that inspired me to create After,” says Tons.
Pre lockdown Tons embarked on a journey over mountains and across rivers in New Zealand far removed from her own dependence on the digital world, and was instead more deeply connected to her inner self and the ebbs and flows of nature. During her two-month walking expedition the artist documented her thoughts, feelings and experiences on a piece of cloth marking it with her drawings and stitch-work to record her story.
“Like a diary it became a record of her thoughts and responses, reflections and interactions with others. It carries the physical patina of being in the environment, not washed clean but holding the experience and memories,” notes Valerie Kirk, artist, tapestry weaver and author of the exhibition essay After (2020).
Returning home to Adelaide as the Covid-19 pandemic began to rage on home shores, Tons says, “Life went from feeling infinite in a natural sense to infinite in a digital sense. The internet was utilised like never before to socialise, to entertain and to document ourselves into mundanity.”
“I have always been aware of my screen addiction tendencies, partly why ‘The Machine Stops’ captured my attention so strongly as a text of foreboding. But I didn’t resist. I became as internet dependent as everyone else. I went to the theatre online, documented my attempts at food growing, documented my dog, documented myself and spoke most days with a different friend either through messaging or video calls. Only to feel a bit empty,” she adds.
Throughout her practice Tons draws inspiration from the art of floriography, which connects particular blooms with emotion and meaning, and is also inspired by the work of William Morris (1834-1896), the 19th century artist, designer and activist renowned for the production of his beautiful flora and fauna-based textile designs. Delving into the meticulous practice of hand-stitching, beading and felting, stitching into paper and sculpting three-dimensional materials, Tons has created a series of masks, cloaks and costumes for ‘After’.
In her photographic compositions a lone figure dressed from head-to-toe in peculiar hand-crafted drapery roams the barren lands of a dystopian world. Visions of a lonely and foreboding future come into view drawing our attention to the importance of staying connected to nature and each other in a time when we are increasingly coerced towards a technological existence.
If like in Forster’s novel our digital machine does stop, how then do we reconnect with others when the lines we have relied on so heavily shut down?
On Saturday September 26 at 1pm in Craft ACT’s gallery you can catch the floor talk with Valerie Kirk who will be discussing the exhibition ‘After’, and Kasia Tons will be making a special appearance via Zoom during the presentation. Click here for more info.
Click here to explore more about the fascinating works in Kasia Tons exhibition, to read her artist statement and the exhibition essay by Valerie Kirk. Watch Kasia’s animation here. Visit the gallery homepage to find Craft ACT location and opening hours and to see what’s coming up next.