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Isabel Miquel Arqués
Beyond Borders - Isabel Miquel Arqués in dialogue with Virginia Woolf
Opening: Saturday September, from 2-5 pm / Introduction by Kristien Hemmerechts at 3 pm
Exhibition > 18 November 2023
Geukens & De Vil, ANTWERP
A House Full of Light
I see myself at home, in Spain, sitting in the living room next to the fireplace. I am sixteen years old and I have just finished reading Al Faro (To the Lighthouse) by Virginia Woolf, which I found in my mother’s library, published in Spanish by Plaza y Janés.
Virginia Woolf Obras Completas (Complete Works), said the title. The book was bound in blue leather, and the pages were thin and transparent, like a missalette. It included: Los Años (The Years), El Cuarto de Jacob (Jacob’s Room), Al Faro (To the Lighthouse), La señora Dalloway (Mrs Dalloway) and Noche y Día (Night and Day).
My attention was caught by the third title, To the Lighthouse, probably because it seemed furthest removed from my reality. It evoked everything everybody seemed to have experienced except me – sea, seaside, family holidays.
Reading the book was certainly not as easy as the title suggested. It was turbulent and revolutionary, but my fascination with Woolf was born and has stayed with me ever since.
For a long time To the Lighthouse became my seaside.I was not part of the family Ramsay, the ones living in a summer house off the coast of Scotland overlooking the lighthouse. I was not even part of their holiday guests. I realized that our existence – mine and my mother’s after my father left us – closely resembled that of the inhabitants of the lighthouse itself. We went nowhere and led our lives surrounded by books rather than by waves. Books, literature and art books became our escape, our solace, and shelter, containing unconfined worlds, islands of light, beauty and attached universes. Books were microscopes and telescopes; smell, touch, and possession; a house full of windows.
When asked what I wanted to become when I grew up, I hesitated... a painter or a librarian? In the end, I settled for a mix of both, using a camera instead of a brush for work that is chiefly inspired by and related to books.
Long before reading Woolf, I was familiar with Don Quixote, which my mother and I would take turns reading out loud, two whole volumes over many months!
Later on, other literary passions surfaced, but there was something unique in Woolf. She had the power to capture the whole and the detail. She created a new dimension forcing me to look with the eyes of a child and the rationality of an adult. In this process, I found freedom, audacity, courage, originality, intelligence, sensitivity, poetry, and – something crucial to my senses – painterly structure. I was reading a painting, hearing a painting. Sometimes this painting was post-impressionist, sometimes cubist,
and sometimes even fauvist.
This book is divided into nine waves, trying to follow a rhythm rather than a plot, as Woolf used to say while writing The Waves – one of her most important and most innovative novels – in which she spreads the lives of the five main characters over nine waves, nine chapters. Each chapter begins with a description of the waves at a particular moment of the day. My nine waves cover Woolf’s life from her earliest memories to her death.
On Monday, 21 February 1927 she wrote in her diary:
Why not invent a new kind of play; as for instance:
... free; yet concentrated; prose & poetry.
This book was conceived as a personal tribute to her genius. Perception may be difficult to convey, but as Lily Briscoe thinks at the end of To the Lighthouse, ‘I have had my vision.’
If this was a challenge in itself, in practice it turned out to be near impossible. How to describe the ‘sensation’ of someone? However, it was this very ‘sensation’ that kept me going.
This book is my portrait of Virginia Woolf as she appears to me in her novels, essays, and diaries, in her yellows, blues, greens and silvers, in her luminous halo, her semi- transparent envelope, the impressions that come and go, like the tide, like the waves themselves.
Karen Blixen, the subject of the first book of the Beyond Borders trilogy, admonishes us: ‘Be not afraid of absurdity, do not shrink from the fantastic. Within
a dilemma choose the most unheard-of, the most dangerous solution. Be brave, be brave!’
In this spirit, I left the shore behind.
Isabel Miquel Arqués
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