Jocelyn McGregor: ‘Mantle’ – Exhibition Review

Jocelyn McGregor ‘Mantle’, 2022, installation view 2. (Image: © Jules Lister)

‘Mantle, Jocelyn McGregor’s debut solo exhibition at Castlefield Gallery Manchester, not only showcases her array of work from sculpture, installation, and stop motion animation, but also drives us to reflect and observe the world around us. Her debut exhibition is currently on show from the 16th January to the 20th February.

McGregor’s work is inspired by the horror genre and the human form, and can almost be seen as a form of monster creation, in which she amplifies the grotesque to create animal-hybrid creatures. However, within this horror theme McGregor tells a story of exploration, reflection, self- evaluation and what it means to be ‘alive’.

Jocelyn McGregor ‘Magpie inkcap’, 2021-22. (Image: © Jules Lister)

McGregor has always felt her work is very much alive, they are born from her creation, they are malleable and grow and move as individuals and as a collection of work. Therefore, as you move through the space, her work directing you to the next installation, it almost mimics a ‘breathing’ action, linking back to ideas of creation and life.

The title given to the exhibition Mantle refers to a mollusc body, that excretes or creates a shell, of which is displayed in some of her works within the exhibition. However, there is a duality of meaning, as the word mantle also has connections with horror and folklore. The mantelpiece is sometimes seen as a gateway in which the devil can enter a home. 

The use of domestic fabrics, earth pigments, and industrial material creates an organic and handmade feel around the work. It reinforces that McGregor is the creator and maker of all of these creatures and monsters.

Jocelyn McGregor ‘Final Girl’, 2021-22. Plaster, plastic polymer, acrylic paint, varnish.               (Image: © Jules Lister)

Incests are a recurring theme of the work. McGregor utilises the features of incests, such as the mantle (the hardened shell), and the repulsive and creepy connotations of insects, to create the basis of her piece Final Girl (2021-2022).

The incest mantle protects the fleshy form within it, the form being a a cast of McGregor’s own body. The use of the female body in this sculpture holds up a mirror to society, to the way in which the female form is objectified, feared and in some cases abused. Many women through life will create a harder exterior as they grow, protecting them from the outside world. This piece visualises that metaphor. These are all themes rooted in folklore and the horror genre, where the female body becomes a vehicle between the supernatural and reality.

Jocelyn McGregor ‘Immortal Fish with Hairbrush Tide’, 2021-22. Stop motion video of animated sculpture. (Image: © Jules Lister)

Jocelyn McGregor ‘Antibodies (Earthworms to the sound of my noodles)’, 2022.

Due to Covid-19, ‘Mantle’ was rescheduled twice, before its recent opening in January 2022. Coronavirus had a huge impact on the art scene with many, like McGregor, fearing that the act of going to an art gallery and seeing work in person may never have been possible again.

Impacted by this fear and the constant changes within the art industry McGregor began to experiment with animation. These experiments began with short shop frame animation of older works around her studio and house. The changing landscape of the arts scene led to the development of the exhibition to incorporate and showcase these short animations.

Despite this being a new medium for her, McGregor described this process as “sculpting in slow motion”. Although this medium began as a way to make her work more accessible across all platforms, if galleries were unable to open, the use of animation and clever sound work adds another layer to the exhibition. With all of her sculptural works being described as alive, the moving animations really are alive. They grow, move and change form, as any other living creature would.

Jocelyn McGregor ‘Manicure Beetle’, 2022. Polymer clay, acrylic nails, brass and magnet. (Image: © Jules Lister)

This exhibition opens up a wider conversation about our place in the world. To think about our relationship with the unwanted. Whether that be insects or animals that are seen as unpleasant or our relationship with the human form (particularly the female form) and the global relationship between between man and nature.

We must question how stigmatised views of creatures like incests, impact the species as a whole. Despite insects being viewed as repulsive and unwanted, they still play a vital role within the ecosystem. Major threats to insects are largely down to habitat destruction, and the influence of chemicals such as pesticides. With many scientists working hard to protect endangered species of insects within the UK and around the world, this exhibition is a catalyst for conversations on the insect crisis as well as reflecting on our place within the environments and living things around us.

Jocelyn McGregor ‘Editions’, 2018-22. (Image: © Jules Lister)

Considering this exhibition explores themes of horror and the uncomfortable, it creates a much more comfortable and calm environment than anticipated. ‘Mantle’ is a celebration of Jocelyn McGregor’s wonderfully unique perspective, imagination and skill in her craft. In her first solo exhibition, she is able to create an immersive environment that leaves you pondering how you interact with the world, yourself, each other and the creatures within it.

‘Mantle’ is open from the 16th-20th February 2022, at Castlefield Gallery, Manchester. Be sure to keep up to date with Jocelyn by checking out her website and following her on instagram.