Mantle is the first major solo exhibition of work by Jocelyn McGregor. McGregor’s work involves sculpture, installation and animation. Taking inspiration from folklore, surrealism and supernatural fiction, she investigates the ways in which female identity is associated with nature, the home and the machine. 

In shelled molluscs, the mantle is the organ that forms the shell. From the original Latin word mantellum we also get mantle as the name for a cloak like garment worn over indoor clothing and mantelpiece a shelf or structure located above a fireplace. Like the calcified layers that separate, support or protect the softer mollusc tissue, the mantel garment and mantelpiece, form boundaries or thresholds between internal habitats and external worlds. Working with domestic fabrics, beauty products, earth pigments and industrial materials, McGregor traverses the perceived boundaries between human, nature and machine, where they meet and overlap, demonstrating the difficulty in defining their edges. The work slips and shifts between states, the recurring presence of bedsheets and soft fabric pieces references their closeness to the body and also their role in transporting us between conscious and unconscious dream worlds. As our lives are increasingly played out onscreen McGregor has been experimenting with stop-motion animation. A medium which enables otherwise inanimate objects to interact with 'real' life environments, blurring the line between the real and fantastic. 

Jocelyn McGregor, Shrink to Fit (2020). Plaster, plaster polymer, plaster bandage, acrylic paint, varnish; on my sofa over Lockdown 2020

In many of McGregor’s works so-called lower animals and creatures often thought to be pests, associated with infestation, disease and decomposition are enlarged and disjointed. New works for this exhibition include wearable sculptures, combing synthetic hair, natural latex and false nails which mimic nature with machine and handmade elements. As appendages they extend the human body into creaturely realms, like prostheses for limbs we didn’t realise we were missing. They form a monstrous body which incorporates both the wretched of nature and artificial materials. This contact with what we may find disgusting and disturbing is a regular feature of horror films, a rich source of inspiration for McGregor and a genre with continued if not increasing mainstream appeal, perhaps not in spite of the pandemic but because of it. 

Nature in McGregor’s work is neither benign or simply aggressive as is sometimes the case in the sub-genre of Ecological Horror, when nature appears to take revenge on our problematic species for the damage we have done to it. Like leftovers from a dream, McGregor's works crawl and creep into the gallery, climbing over it, snaking round corners and hanging down walls. Encroaching into the space like unclipped fingernails and overgrown hair, reclaiming space like roots and vines. McGregor’s work might prompt us to consider the useful roles performed by bats, snails, spiders and worms in nature and how they ultimately contribute to sustaining human life. Crucially though, this close encounter with nature does not point towards an easy resolution, a simple becoming whole again, or being one with nature. The fragmented elements in McGregor’s work suggest something inconsistent and incomplete at the heart of what humans are, and of nature itself. 

Jocelyn Mcgregor: Mantle, was selected from proposals submitted by Castlefield Gallery Associates by guest selector Mariama Attah curator at Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool and Castlefield Gallery Curator Matthew Pendergast

Image: Jocelyn McGregor, Shrink to Fit (2020). Plaster, plaster polymer, plaster bandage, acrylic paint, varnish; on my sofa over Lockdown 2020