Ria Pacquée

Ronny Van De Velde

Without exception Ria Pacquée’s actions deal with the desperate attempt to connect contemporary art with daily life. It would be difficult, if not virtually impossible, to go further than Pacquée does. She cloaks herself as an archetypal banal character and allows this persona to interact with a location usually not associated with art. One can see similarities with other artists, but only superficially, since Pacquée does not depict a range of possible characters but rather actually becomes someone else. This is the closest an artist can come to creating a symbiosis between two parallel worlds.

Inevitably there are problems involved in the idea of breaking out of the realm of art by embracing street life. One of the most interesting is undoubtedly the perverted pleasure the viewer has in sharing a secret with the artist. Initiating us into her secret world, Pacquée allows us to look in a twisted way at all these “innocent” people who don’t have the slightest suspicion of a possible conspiracy.

In one of her first “Street Ramblings” from 1988, Pacquée appropriated a character one can see all over the world without noticing her: an elderly, practically invisible, fragile woman who does exactly what she is supposed to do: she remains totally anonymous. Just being there without causing any act that could draw attention results in the extreme amalgamation of “Madame,” the name of her character. Except for the viewer, nobody has a clue who this woman is. In fact, no one cares or even wants to know. Some stills of her voyage in real life show us boring but familiar situations: Madame asking a resident how to get where she wants to go; Madame posing in front of a historical building; Madame feeding the birds. The power of these snapshots is the reversal of fiction and reality. Madame is the central point of all the pictures, and the exact and only reason why we look at these situations in the first place.

Recently Pacquée has created a new character, who is, in a way, more interesting but also more dangerous. “Mister,” the name of her new protagonist, has a magnetic power. His androgyny makes him mysterious, and his acts seem to demand an immediate response. In London, Mister became a weird apostle of an obscure message. The accidental passers-by can meet this kind of person in any city, but one has to be careful not to risk a too-obvious alienation. Yet most people passed by, looking for only a couple of seconds without knowing they had become part of Pacquée’s “Street Rambling.”

The same character appeared in a Kafkaesque street action in Antwerp. For no reason, a small shack was installed on one of the city’s busiest street corners. There, Mister sat with no purpose at all. What people thought while they looked at this manifestation of uselessness is not known, but their taped reactions revealed that even this action was accepted as part of their world. Two girls walked up to Mister and asked him a couple of questions. After a while they gave up, but not without remarking that “it must be one of those bureaucrats who is not allowed to say or do anything.” Curtain.

How candid can an imitation of life become?

Jos Van den Bergh