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'Common Thread' – online exhibition

‘Common Thread’ is a community exhibition featuring four artists who work with materials from the domestic setting such as needles and thread, children’s school tools, and pieces of paper. Each artist has transformed their chosen material into a tool for social commentary.

Clara Batton Smith’s pieces reveal the history of needlework in political revolution, while calling on us to fight for others in the present. Raising awareness of mental health during the pandemic, Sarah Hallett presents soft fabric text works that reflect the coping mechanisms we shared in lockdown.

Searching for community connections, Ricky Kuruppu uses paper and ink to post messages of wisdom around Melbourne. Natalie Codling repurposes vintage primary school maths tools to create colourful compositions that honour the lasting legacies of teachers.

‘Common Thread’ invites audiences to embrace the beauty of everyday materials that poignantly illuminate our connectedness to others.

Featuring: Natalie Codling, Sarah Hallett, Ricky Kuruppu and Clara Batton Smith.

Many of the artworks in this exhibition are for sale. Visit the Boroondara Arts shop to purchase an artwork.

Image credit: Sarah Hallett, ‘Yay’, 2021, recycled cotton and embroidery floss, 24 x 24.5cm, image courtesy the artist.

Natalie Codling

Natalie Codling, a former architect, began her art practice during lockdown while home-schooling her children. The art teacher at her children’s local Boroondara primary school would set an art project every week to submit, and Codling took it upon herself to complete the work as well.

Through this process, Codling began collecting and repurposing vintage Cuisenaire rods (old mathematics tools used in primary school) gathered from around the world. She began using the Cuisenaire rods as her ‘paint’ to create 2D and 3D artworks.

Each of the artworks are named after either a primary or secondary school teacher who had an impact on the artist’s education and development as a person. When Codling creates a piece, she thinks of a particular teacher and what they meant to her, and then creates an artwork inspired by them. Codling believes teachers are incredibly important to a person’s development, as they help shape the person they become. Since home-schooling her own children, she has an even deeper respect for these hardworking and dedicated individuals.

Sarah Hallett

Sarah Hallett is a Naarm (Melbourne) based crafter and textile-lover. Growing up in the outer-metro suburbs, Hallett was surrounded by fabrics, yarn, sewing patterns and knitting needles belonging to her mother and grandmother. Their ability to shape expressions of identity through craft and textiles has fostered Hallett’s affection for sewing and craft.

The artworks in ‘Common Thread’ are a collection of craft and textile-based soft sculptures which are simultaneously expressions of anxiety and sadness, and a belief that times of hardship cannot last forever. Hallett began making these artworks during Naarm’s first lockdown in 2020. Instead of making clothing and objects for friends and family as she usually would, Hallett needed to make work that was cathartic and an expression of her own mental health during 2020.

The collection of phrases included in her works are lines people often call upon or encounter when reflecting on how they are feeling. Phrases such as ‘I’m fine’, ‘just one more thing’ and ‘It’s all good’, are said in a dismissive way. These pithy comments hold a sad truth; that it’s not ‘fine’ or ‘all good’. However, these comments are also a comforting reminder that this too shall pass.

Ricky Kuruppu

Ricky Kuruppu is a counsellor, writer, and local artist who has run the street art project ‘Boy Under the Bridge’ for several years, receiving media recognition during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. Kuruppu creates snippets of uplifting poetry typewritten on pieces of textured cards that people could stumble upon – and even keep.

During the 2020 lockdown, Kuruppu had the idea to create scavenger hunts with his art. He used his social media platforms and the GPS running app, Strava to share maps that could be followed along with photo clues. The response from the community was that finding his work brought novelty, joy and positivity to their days – during a time when it was needed the most.

Kuruppu is an ambassador for Mental Health Australia, and his messages of hope in dark times have touched the lives of many in Boroondara and greater Melbourne. You can find out more through the Boy Under the Bridge website. You can also find Ricky’s art on Instagram: @boyunderthebridge.

Clara Batton Smith

Clara Batton Smith is a local artist using needlework to create pieces about social justice and radical gratitude.

Batton Smith writes about her practice: ‘Needlework doesn't traditionally evoke thoughts of political demonstration. Needlework is made to display feminine qualities, decorate homes, make blankets to wrap around babies, not spark a revolution. Dig a bit deeper in history and needle work wasn't only used to prove your homemaking skills to prospective husbands. Abolitionists stitched symbols in quilts making maps to the Underground Railroad. Suffragettes stitched flags and banners to carry their messages through the streets. Needlework is gentle aesthetically but can be as rabble rousing as social realism printmaking or anti-war expressionism painting.

Gratitude also doesn't immediately elicit images of revolution either but through gratitude I find a call to fight for others who may not have all that I have. Through gratitude I find beautiful moments to celebrate in everyday life. I have developed a textile collection centred on expressing gratitude for the love and lessons I receive from the women currently in my life, appreciation for my foremothers and my respect for the ultimate mother, nature herself.’

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