Toby Paterson discusses his new work The Sociology of Autumn, commissioned for Edinburgh Art Festival 2017. It is stunningly set in Chessels Court, a tranquil close associated with social pioneer Patrick Geddes' network of green spaces in the Old Town of Edinburgh. Today it is entered from the Canongate through an arcaded frontage designed by architect Robert Hurd in the 1950s. The work borrows its title from Geddes’ 1895 essay of the same name, in which Geddes finds ‘in Autumn its secret: that of survival yet initiative, of inheritance yet fresh variation’. For Paterson, Chessels Court embodies this process ‘of inheritance yet fresh variation’, as does his response: a series of interrelated sculptural, architectural and landscape elements work with and respond to the essential colours, materials and form of Edinburgh's Old Town, producing a micro-landscape that invites reflection on Patrick Geddes' observations on the city, in the context of Chessels Court and the High Street today.
Toby Paterson has a strong interest in the built environment, and in particular, the approach to architecture and public space which emerged in post-war Britain, inspired by modernism and the utopian ideas which underpinned it. Many of his projects emerge from extended periods of time spent directly observing and documenting architectural schemes, but always with a view to the larger political, economic and sociological contexts which have shaped and find their expression in them. It is an approach which finds parallels in Patrick Geddes’ detailed and empirical surveys of cities as a means to study human activity and society.