Text by Alexandra Borkowski
Throughout her prolific and varied artistic practice, Barbara Todd has unearthed numerous imaginative variations on familiar forms. In particular, an ordinary oblong stone is transformed across different media as it appears cool and smooth in sculptural assemblages, glowing and delicate in photographs, and soft and warm in quilts and felt work. Despite the constant recurrence of this shape throughout her body of work, the shifting textures evade any concrete referent and rather wink to a host of interpretative possibilities.
One apparent reference is a nod to Jean Arp in her Little Arp series, which bears a striking resemblance to the playful forms of the avant-garde sculptor. Indeed, the Dadaist impulse towards inversion is present in much of Todd’s work as her allusive titles lend a curious liveliness to her abstract pieces. A series of photographs of rocks entitled Breathing, for instance, touches on a surrealist fascination with animating the inanimate. Her abstract arrangements, when identified as “Little Arps”, also spring to life; their seemingly haphazard forms become an indication of their discrete personalities.
Todd also shares with Arp a suggested communication between the subconscious and the natural world. Arp wrote in his “Infinite Millimeter Manifesto” of 1938:
we have to first let forms, colours, words, sounds grow
and then explain them […] I for one don’t draw up a plan first as if I were dealing with a time-table, a calculation or a war
The art of stars, flowers, forms, colors is part of the infinite
This synchronicity between language, art and nature is taken up in Todd’s Stone Days project, in which the artist created intuitive arrangements of stones prompted by pieces of text she had collected over the years. This automatic gesture indicates a reciprocal potential for the artist to animate the object and for the object to activate the inner workings of the mind.
This reciprocity comes to the fore in Todd’s Side by Side. Her iconic stone appears once again in a series of textile works and mixed media collages which come together as a collection of discrete objects that seem to talk to one another. The imaginative possibility created by the interaction of material elements is akin to the exchange of ideas and mannerisms between people. Todd therefore initiates the art object and the natural world to which it alludes into conversation with each other and with the viewer.