PRINT April 1992


Her femininity was only a mask.
—Jean Genet

You might not notice “Madame,” a solitary woman, neutral, alone on a pilgrimage to find herself. Madame does not stay at home, for privately she does not exist. So she goes out, mingles with the crowd at the National Garden Festival in Gateshead, hoping for a glimpse of royalty, or travels to Cologne for Kameval, that time to be other than oneself, and to Lourdes, the residence of miracles.

Madame is nondescript but can be described, is undistinguished yet can be distinguished from those around her: Madame with her blond curled coif, her glasses, her large black handbag. Madame in her pale raincoat, of sensible length, and her sensible shoes. Madame, her arms crossed over her chest, protecting her loneliness. Madame is a tentative being, almost too timid to assume a persona, or a shape. She can and does relate to others, but her proper province is solitude. Madame, Ria Pacquée says, is “just filling in her time,” and Pacquée should know because the Belgian artist created her.

Madame, nevertheless, seems “to be”; there are pictures to prove it, “real” photographs of Pacquée playing a looking-glass game, a young woman appropriating the identity of an imagined other. Pacquée knows that, as Judith Butler writes, “appearances are more suspect all the time.” Looks are deceiving; the truth of the photograph is dubious. Pacquée/Madame is an impostor, engaging in a masquerade, the female fate, Joan Riviere would say. Yet by this ruse, this assumption of a mask, Pacquée forces us, in a pleasant way, to see she who is “not there but there.” Pacquée pictures what no one wants to recognize—a woman who, past childbearing age, is presumed to exist outside the loop of desire. Madame is one of the disregarded, the overlooked. Inasmuch as her sexuality does not declare itself, it is hard to make her out. Pacquée makes you want to try.

Deborah Drier