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Open Frequency

Open Frequency is a programme area of Axis, the Scottish Arts Council funded online resource for the contemporary art community. Further details about Axis are available on their website.

Open Frequency is a curated online programme presenting new developments in contemporary art which have been supported by the Scottish Arts Council. Recently profiled artists include Katy Dove, Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan, Camilla Low, Toby Paterson, Rob Kennedy and Hayley Tompkins.

Claire Todd is a visual artist who is featured in the Open Frequency programme.

Read on for an introduction to the artist's practise by Jenny Brownrigg, University of Dundee Exhibitions Department Curator at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee.

Claire Todd

Formally trained as a sculptor and scenographer, Claire Todd’s work incorporates object, drawing, costume, performance and film. She often investigates how the specific nature of an object, a physical movement or gesture linked to an actual location can become a space for devotion, or a common meeting point.

The performers that Todd collaborates with come from different walks of life, encountered in different situations. ‘Cubby’ (2000), was a site specific work with Grizedale Forest’s then Chief Wildlife Ranger John Cubby, who poured a watering can over his collection of deformed deer antlers that Claire had planted in the ground. In ‘Chapel’ (2001), Ann the cook at artists residency Hospitalfield House became a ‘singing glen’, sitting on top of Arbroath Chapel’s crypt, normally a coffin rest, a symbol of verdant abundance, encased in a costume of a hill replete with model houses and animals rolling down its slopes; her sung words:

Majorette, Film Still, 2005 Claire Todd

‘You made me love you, I didn’t want to do it’, amplified by the chapel’s walls.

Both performances share common themes of renewal, resurrection and the resurgence of life that abound in Todd’s work.

Todd explains her work as being ‘fixed to fall’; the investment of labour put into her costumes and objects give them an inner life that must be spent though action or performance.

‘Lunan Bay’ (2001), filmed on Super 8, features the artist being helped into a huge seal form that she made out of neoprene and follows her dangerous trajectory rolling down a dune. This film captures Todd’s ability to create a cathartic moment where the loss of control signifies a fleeting connection, in this instance between humans and nature.

In ‘Oso Bay’ (2008) David, a former marine, hurls aluminium frisbees cast from marshland grasses, into a mud plain on Ward Island, South Texas.  The flight of the frisbee, and its subsequent fall, momentarily connects sky to ground.

These objects were subsequently exhibited in the gallery, ‘spent’ and covered with mud.

Marrom Chorus, bronze grass object, 2006 Claire Todd

Todd’s drawings teem with life and movement, flying with swirling pencil and watercolour lines creating fluid surfaces and oceanic space for people and nature to inhabit. The harmonious and dissonant spatial planes that move across and ascend the page could be read as musical notation.

Costume drawing for 'Companions at Sea', 2006 Claire Todd


The reoccurring motif of outstretched hands become those of a conductor, carrying a sense of rhythm, thought and intention.  The people, forming human chains without end throughout, are further carriers of meaning; their gestures and expressions conveying different moods. Although orders of space and surface collide, each complex drawing viewed as a whole shows a multifarious life system, where the ‘community’ and its surroundings express a sense of mutual interdependence.

 ‘Companions at Sea’ (2004-2008), draws together a cast of individuals; bound in habitual acts that are their anchors in life.

Each character has slowly gestated through an organic process of observation, drawing, costume making and in meeting the right person to animate them for film. Todd chooses to show all elements in exhibition, giving each person their own history.  

The costumes are a riot of colour and stitch work, ornamented with porcelain and iridescent ceramic forms. The characters are ‘carnivalesque’, taking this word in its ancient sense, where within its excessive exaggeration is the kernel of truth. ‘The Majorette’ who stands by the flooding banks of the River Tiber is played by Eleanor the acrobat. She is the archetypal artist spinning fire, perpetually having to keep it going. ‘The Jaw Fish’ is based on the male of this species, who exhales to nurture and oxygenate the eggs of his young. As the wind blows through a weeping willow, he wraps the streamers of his tail round the tree trunk. ‘The Cat Lady’ inspired by the ladies in Rome that daily feed stray cats, wears a costume and headdress referencing the Byzantine Empress Theodora, who cared for women considered prostitutes.

Termini, performance drawing, 2004 Claire Todd

Overall, Todd’s work drives towards a super abundance of emotion but in the ebb and flow of excess there is a quest for both the miraculous and simplicity to be found in the trajectory of life.

Jenny Brownrigg 2008


Claire Todd (b. 1971, Kingston-on-Thames) graduated in 1999 from the Rijksakademie Van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam; 1995 MA Scenography St Martins, London; 1994 BA Fine Art Sculpture University of Northumbria Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

She lives and works in Dundee.

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