New London Architecture

Five minutes with...Jocelyn McGregor

Monday 16 May 2022

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor  
Hi Jocelyn. Essentially, could you first of all explain the title? I think that might be a good way to get into the nitty gritty of the project. What's Earthing all about? 
 
Jocelyn McGregor  
Basically, it came out of the public engagement workshops, the title. It was going to be called Supernatural (laughs). But during the public engagement workshops, there were a couple of participants who shared their story. They didn't know one another before, but they did the same thing during lockdown, which was: when they were feeling stressed in their own space, and it just got too much, they'd go out to either the grass on Aldgate Square, or I think one of them had their own garden, and just take their shoes and socks off, just to connect with the earth and the ground and the soil and just, like, reset. That immediately jumped out at me. Because I think, for me, people are the reason there is a manufactured world, but we're also just animals. So, we're so natural. And yet we're the reason all of this built environment, artificial environment exists. So I think it was a really nice idea that to escape that artificial environment, we ourselves have to reconnect with the Earth, because we are just animals and that's how we reset. So that really jumped out to me. And I thought: that's the tone I want to set.
 
David Taylor  
Yeah. Hence the kind of snail-like look to this piece, with its mix of snails plus human parts, right?
 
Jocelyn McGregor  
Yes. 
 
David Taylor  
So: the materials. Can you just explain a little bit about the use of materials here?
 
Jocelyn McGregor  
Yes. The rock is actually from a bit of…my dad's got a field up in Cumbria… 
 
David Taylor  
…Oh, right, this has come down from there?
 
Jocelyn McGregor  
It has, yeah, (laughs). It's a dry-stone wall that was falling down, but has now been built back up again, basically. So that's all come from there and the moss has too – even though I'm not sure it's going to be very happy in London! The snail shells are Jesmonite. It's like an A730, which is like a really, really solid outdoor Jesmonite. And then the limbs are bronze.
 
David Taylor  
Did you need to adopt some dry-stone wall techniques to do this? Did you have to learn it yourself? Or did you just assemble it?
 
Jocelyn McGregor  
A little bit. I mean, I feel like the structure of the wall is quite forgiving, because it's quite dilapidated. So yeah, my very limited stacking rocks on rocks worked to a certain extent. But luckily, I worked with MDM Props, a fabricating company in London, and they had a stone mason work with them. So it was Dylan who did an amazing job on building up most of it, and I went around drilling in the chemical anchoring all together. 
 
David Taylor  
And there are two elements to it, in order to encourage people to walk through it and observe it from different parts, right? When did you have the idea to have it as two separate elements? And is that part of the idea?
 
Jocelyn McGregor  
Yeah, so the idea, essentially, came after the public engagement workshops, again, because people spoke about maybe being able to enter into something and that affecting how they engaged with it, like being able to develop more of a relationship. So I thought of mountaintop shelters in Cumbria when you're on a walk. They're usually for sheep, but, you know, walkers sit down and have their sandwiches in them. So, I wanted to have this idea, and they're always a bit falling down when they look a bit like just a pile of stones. But it's like a windbreak and again, it's quite an animal thing of if we just need shelter to survive. I liked that idea, that it's sort of a respite from something and it kind of encloses you. Also, it's your way through into the park, and maybe you just have this moment where you just step outside of yourself from maybe the stresses of everyday life. You've entered, very momentarily, into another world, as it were, and pass through it. I was also really keen for there to be something at all angles, so there wasn't just one way to look at it. 
David Taylor  
Are you pleased with it?
 
Jocelyn McGregor  
Yeah. Yeah, I am. I am. I mean, I think it is such a funny question for an artist because you're never really 100%...
 
David Taylor  
…Because it's gone through so many different iterations...?
 
Jocelyn McGregor  
...because you are onto the next idea, I think. There's always a moment where, for me, it's like, I'm happy, this has got as good as this particular sculpture is going to get, and then everything, all my criticisms, I'm going to take to the next piece. And if it was perfect, I wouldn't make another one (laughs). So...
 
David Taylor  
Last question: in terms of context, in terms of Aldgate, did you have that as part of your artistic vision? Did you feel you needed to contextualize? To refer to its locus, its place?
 
Jocelyn McGregor  
I think I wasn't totally harnessed by that. But I am really interested in urban green spaces. And the idea that obviously, we're very aware that we need those green spaces for mental health reasons, and blah, blah. And lots of people have lunch in them, they have a rest in them. I was interested in researching that. What does that mean? We build this environment, and you know, very kind of highly pressurized; it's manufactured. But within that, we still have to have nature. Otherwise, we just can't handle it. And so, I was responding to that with Aldgate. I learned a lot about the history of it. You know, I think it was just a big road at one point, with the church in the middle. And again, that sort of idea that this was built to make some space for some nature and greenery and stuff.
 
David Taylor  
Last, last point! I love its tactility and the fact that you can go and touch it; you can see all the kids just touching it. And that's not common amongst public artworks. Some are sort of roped off, aren’t they? Was that part of your theme as well?
 
Jocelyn McGregor  
Yeah, I think, for me, I'm a sculptor, and so much of the process is tactile. So it's always felt a bit odd, that then it goes into a gallery or something. 
 
David Taylor  
Yeah, ‘thou shalt not touch’!
 
Jocelyn McGregor  
Yeah! And people can't even see that there's such a difference in this material and that material. And so then for me, I really loved the idea of it in public. Even if there was a ‘please do not touch’ sign, there's no way that would work! (laughs). I like the idea that it's it just: no, here you are, this is it! So I worked with that, and I really liked the textures on the shells – and the bronze feels cold whereas the rest can feel quite warm and absorb the heat in a different way. And I just really liked to play with that.
 
 
David Taylor  
Well, congratulations on that, and the whole piece. I think it’s great.
 
Jocelyn McGregor  
Thanks David!


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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