Featured in
Issue 236

Anna Boghiguian’s Conversations With Virginia Woolf and Clarice Lispector

At Campoli Presti, Paris, the artist’s delicate installations respond to texts by two of the 20th-century's most celebrated authors 

BY Vincent Simon in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 04 APR 23

Anna Boghiguian’s latest exhibition, ‘Conversations’, features drawings, paintings and sculptural installations that respond to texts by two prominent, 20th-century writers: Clarice Lispector, who gave her characters free expressive rein, and Virginia Woolf, who reflected on the role of women artists.

Anna Boghiguian
Anna Boghiguian, Conversation with Clarice Lispector around ‘The Passion According to GH’, 2019, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Campoli Presti, Paris; Rebecca Fanuele

The show opens with Conversation with Clarice Lispector around ‘The Passion According to GH’ (2019) – a large-scale installation first exhibited four years ago at Manifesta 13 – which focuses on a moment in Lispector’s eponymous 1964 novel when the narrator, GH, realizes that the repulsive cockroach she has tried to kill is not only still alive but is staring at her. Comprising figures painted onto paper then cut out and displayed like banners on metal rods planted in a mound of soil, Boghiguian’s interpretation is not a faithful illustration of Lispector’s text: rather, she uses it as a point of departure to create an intriguing yet beguiling installation that speaks to our innermost fears. 

Anna Boghiguian
Anna Boghiguian, The Dinner Table (detail), 2023, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Campoli Presti, Paris; photograph: Rebecca Fanuele

Elsewhere, a new work, The Dinner Table (2023), is conceived in dialogue with Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse (1927). Draped over the titular dining table is a cloth on which the artist has painted colourful figures – a boat, a tree, a butterfly, a cockroach, a soldier – alongside fragmented sentences from the novel; the folds of the cloth reinforce the text’s illegibility. Above the table hang painted paper discs resembling lanterns, beneath which are assembled two groups of cut-out figures inspired by scenes from Woolf’s novel: one appears to represent the young protagonist Lily Briscoe painting a portrait of Mrs Ramsay and her son. The rudimentary rendering of these characters lends the work a charming resonance. I sense that Boghiguian uses her art to tell stories not necessarily to enchant but, rather, to educate. Her figures are like the puppets of a static, silent theatre steeped in knowledge and dense with memory, or cut-outs that could be carried through the streets by demonstrators to denounce injustice and to mock the rich and powerful. 

Anna Boghiguian
Anna Boghiguian, The Dinner Table, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Campoli Presti, Paris; photograph: Rebecca Fanuele 

The last work in the exhibition, To the Lighthouse (2019), also first shown at Manifesta 13, is an abridged, illustrated version of Woolf’s novel, comprising 23 acrylic-on-metal paintings. The cold, reflective surfaces of the panels imbue these works with a sense of impermanence, as if the words and images they contain could be wiped off at any moment. Their scale and format give them the look of pages torn from a notebook and pinned to the wall, suggesting an economy of means. When Boghiguian was travelling the world during the 1980s and ’90s, she was mostly only able to make drawings in her sketchbooks. Now an internationally acclaimed artist, she has production assistants for her large-scale installations, but she still works very simply. In Woolf’s novel, Briscoe is challenged by a young man’s remark that women can’t paint or write, eventually moving beyond her doubt to a place of fulfilment. Here, she is portrayed as the heroine of Boghiguian’s art, an accomplished practice that asserts itself without relying on technical mastery and offers a model of artistic and creative freedom – independence from external judgment and formal convention.

Anna Boghiguian’s ‘Conversations’ is at Campoli Presti, Paris, until 15 April

Main image: Anna Boghiguian, To the Lighthouse (detail), 2019, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Campoli Presti, Paris; photograph: Rebecca Fanuele

Vincent Simon is an independent writer, editor and curator based in Paris, France. He also is the director of the artist books and fanzines fair Paris Ass Book Fair. Image: © Unglee, 2022