Paper Cave review by David Laing



Why should citizens of 21st century post-industrial society want to seek out and explore the mysterious confines of a cave? What magic might be worked there, what rituals might take place? In the former tourist information office on Ayr's Sandgate Laura McGlinchey, a graduate of Gray's Art School in Aberdeen, has created a sculpted and painted work of art which takes full possession of the gallery space as opposed to merely complementing or decorating it.

In 'Paper Cave' the viewer enters a chamber of uneven contours and curious protuberances, punctuated by tilting supports under a low newspaper ceiling from which dangle a multitude of paper strips. The work is not pretty, perhaps reflecting the grubby, disordered aspects of our urban existence.


'Paper Cave' enjoys an organic relationship to the artist's earlier work which includes three-dimensional paintings large enough for the viewer to step inside. One of these painting-sculptures, or sculpture-paintings, was whimsically described as being like a ‘cubicle’ or a ‘cave’. This then was the starting point for the physically more ambitious work we see today.

The artist is relaxed about discussing the influences that impact upon her work. Chief among these are the creations of the English sculptress Phyllida Barlow, whose use of 'expedient' materials - Barlow's word - is echoed by the newspapers, plastic bags, flyers and accumulated ephemera which McGlinchey shreds, crushes, folds, layers, heat-fuses and then paints upon to create her heavily-textured environments. As with Barlow, the apparent randomness of execution belies a concentrated tenacity, an intense level of deliberation accompanied by impressive physical commitment. 'Paper Cave' took goodness knows how many woman-hours to produce.


In terms of cultural influences, McGlinchey draws upon the visual noise of the 'indie' music club scene. While the vibrant colours she employs can be immediately referenced in the plastic materials used in the construction of her environment, aesthetically the "punk colours" – McGlinchey’s phrase- bring to mind the graphic art of the Sex Pistols era. Then there is the low ceiling and the floor-level coloured lights; the rough surfaces like torn posters on a club-dungeon's walls and the miscellaneous scraps of paper with which the artist has covered the entire floor area. The detritus is suggestive of the layers of slippery muck and slime which are all too often the result of a night of unhinged revelry.


In approaching the theme of 'cave' it is surely impossible to avoid referencing our precarious nomadic existence of distant millennia. In the opening episode of the classic BBC documentary series 'The Ascent of Man', Josef Bronowski leads the viewer into the caves of Altamira in northern Spain where we see prehistoric paintings of animals, of a human being in the act of hurling a spear and the image of a hand which appears in negative. Indeed, McGlinchey refers to "the hunter-gatherer in me" as she discusses the method whereby she amasses her 'expedient' materials prior to the physical realisation of her idea. So, in terms of its meaning, 'Paper Cave' is pregnant with possibilities. In a fractured, violent world convulsed by economic crisis and war, where millions are tragically on the move, McGlinchey's cave could provide a sanctuary, or a metaphorical refuge from approaching environmental collapse. Perhaps it could be a site of rituals; a place where the word 'community' can have a deeper resonance in contrast to the indifferent petty-individualism which characterises our fated happy-shopper culture; a place of meaningful exchange as opposed to the blip-blip-blip of human relations mediated through mobile phone technology. On the other hand, it is also possible to detect menace here. 'Paper Cave' contains dark corners which could easily be imagined as the entrance to the underworld in Wagner's Ring cycle.


McGlinchey will likely say that she did not intend any of this. Indeed, we may not be required to 'understand' her work at all. In her view, there was no particular point to be made in embracing the cave idea. As she put it, the work of art "just is" and so 'Paper Cave' excites a visual-tactile response; a creation which is seen, felt and experienced. Happily, the artist does give permission to run one's hand over the work and to poke inquisitive fingers into recesses. McGlinchey says that she wants viewers to feel 'comfortable' in her cave although she acknowledges the possibility that for some there may be a feeling of claustrophobia. Perhaps above all, she desires that we should appreciate the level of creative industry 'Paper Cave' embodies, the significance of her physical effort in the act of making. To put it crudely: modern art can be bloody hard work!


David Laing

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