Cultural Fellow Toby Paterson talks to Lynn McGarry about the experiences that made him the artist he is today and how he uses them to engage with the students of GCU.
For Toby Paterson, GCU Cultural Fellow and Becks Futures Prize winner, learning that GCU’s campus redevelopment project included plans to create a link between the Saltire Centre and the George Moore building − and straight through Potential Forms, his first painting for the University − was a “dynamic opportunity that demonstrates the painting’s original idea: this is subject to changes of direction”.
“When I was first told that a hole might have to be cut through the painting, rather than be grumpy about it, I understood that, when you work in public spaces, things change,” says Toby. “The project has revolutionised the campus and, to continue to build GCU’s identity, it needed to integrate disparate buildings created over four decades.
“It’s such a productive link, symbolically joining the different parts of the University. I had no problem with punching a hole as long as I got to sort out the work afterwards. There was something dynamic about it. The artist Gordon Matta-Clark specialised in cutting holes in buildings – so this was my Gordon Matta-Clark moment and I actually like Potential Forms more now!”
The revisited Potential Forms has been joined in the new spaces by three new works by Toby – Our Routes, New Conjunction, and Cluster Relief (River).
“I hope the works introduce another level of experience to the environment and become landmarks – not in the sense that there’s a big sculpture on a plinth to be venerated,” says Toby.
“I hope they work in an ambient way. They are placed so that you experience them as you move through the buildings and can be ignored as much as noticed, but subconsciously they will register.
“There’s also an element of time at work. I like the idea of work that sneaks into people’s experience and, if you took it away they would notice that the space is not as interesting as it was. The work has no explicit message, it’s trying to work at an experiential level, stating that the experience of this place is of value. It’s another strand in GCU’s commitment to a quality of environment.
“If they were taken off the wall and placed in a gallery, they would still be art works but they articulate the experience of the place differently to an architect’s plan for redeveloping a campus. They become almost like punctuation marks.”
Toby’s relationship with the campus stretches back to his own student days (when he’d skateboard around its then wide-open spaces), through the creation of Potential Forms in 2005 to becoming a Cultural Fellow in 2011.
“I’m the only visual artist on the Cultural Fellows programme and I was a bit jealous of the writers and musicians who could touch down directly through a workshop or a reading.
“It took a while to work out how I could engage through visual content and that eventually arose through contact with GCU’s graphic design and digital design students. I act almost as a client with a brief to create a collaborative project using my work as a jumping-off point. It becomes a complex thing for students to grapple with and I am hugely impressed by some amazing work.”
He adds: “I was adamant I wanted to work with students and any advice I’d give them is the advice I wish I’d been given at 17 or 18: be as open minded as you have the energy to be and be prepared to be challenged. That relates to the type of institution that GCU is.
“It balances successfully its location and the fact that it draws a big part of its cohort from this part of the world with an incredibly national and international intake. The mix feels really good. The nature of the campus and the feeling of the culture make it possible for students to have this openness. I look back and see how narrow my experiences were when I began art school and many students may feel that as well, until they start university.
“Engaging with GCU is a real opportunity for that to open up. My life went off in another direction when I took a leap of faith and studied in Chicago, but students needn’t take a physical leap of faith, it can be a cultural or intellectual one. The conditions at GCU are increasingly right for that approach to be open to students and young people.
“The more you are open to new experiences and ideas, the more you get and the more you put back out. As I get older, I try to have the doors open as wide as possible.”
Or swing a wrecking ball through them.