interview with pixy liao
New York-based photographer Pixy Liao explores a reversal of gender roles in a modern day relationship in her series “Experimental Relationship"; something that may not be as out of place in the UK, but in China, where Pixy (Yijun) was born and raised, it is certainly not the norm. The project curates photographs she has taken of herself and her younger boyfriend, Moro. Challenging conventions in terms of what is stereotypically male, but also the respective roles in a relationship.
Her series is on display in her first solo European exhibit
“Lady and Gentleman” in Malmö, Sweden (Mar 24, 2017 – Apr 22, 2017)
How was your show in Sweden received differently in comparison to those in Memphis and Shanghai?
The opening in Malmö felt quite different from the other openings I had been to. Before going there, I was worried that no one would show up because the gallery owners were the only people I knew in Sweden. But to my surprise, many people came, and most people stayed throughout the opening. There was a mixture of local art goers, gallery friends and my friends’ Swedish friends. I had long talks with several visitors who were genuinely interested in my experiences and stories. People would ask me how my work is being received in China because in Sweden, I feel people are less familiar with Asian cultures; some are very curious to know if this type of work will be banned in China. (The short answer is no.) In terms of how my work is received, in China people are interested in the actual relationship because how it is portrayed is not common in Asian society. However, in the USA, people thought of this project in a more feminist way.
You currently live in Brooklyn, New York. How does this compare with Shanghai?
I think living in Brooklyn has made me more independent. When I lived in Shanghai, I had my family and friends there and it felt like I belonged to a community. There are also so many Chinese artists there, plus I have my gallery. Everything seemed easier. There seems to be a working system for somebody like me. But living in Brooklyn is hard because there is no way except my own way. I hope this can help me make my future work more true to myself.
Living in the US must mean that you’re surrounded by the current politics that affect many different aspects of society.
Do you think Trump’s presidency will affect any aspects of your work?
Trump’s presidency is a huge disappoint to many people, especially those who work in the arts. Art funding is being cut and of course gender equality is in danger. However, in a sense this is a wakeup call to many artists, myself included. It gives us the urge to produce more art and I believe that there will be a lot of great artwork being made in the US during this special time.
Do you think that your role as photographer gives you a certain power over your boyfriend when you are creating the images?
Maybe. I think that in the beginning it set the tone of our relationship; I got to know him by using the excuse of being a photographer that was looking for a model. By being a photographer, it somehow gives you the same power as a director. I often think of myself as a director during a photoshoot.
Do you like having your own photo taken?
No, unless it is a self-portrait. Like most people, I’m just not sure what the photographer actually wants.
The photograph of Moro in one of your dresses is one of my personal favourites and seems to stand out in the collection. I know the focus is on the meaning behind the dress, rather than the dress itself, but does fashion ever play much of a role in your work?
What to wear is always a question for me during photo shoots, yet the photo you are referring to was a rare example that the dress is was decided upon without any doubt. I would usually choose nudity or simple clothing. Colour definitely plays a big part in my decisions.
The picture of you spitting into your boyfriend’s mouth seems, to me, to show a more maternal relationship. Do you think that this is a fair assessment?
For that particular photo, I didn’t actually think about a maternal relationship. The inspiration for that photo came from a cartoon image of a prince spitting into Sleeping Beauty’s mouth. To me, that definitely shows a more romantic relationship.
Has your relationship with Moro grown and/or strengthened as a result of your work together?
This project has made us partners. It is based on our relationship and therefore grows with our relationship. At the same time, this project has become part of our life. In the beginning, he would just do as I said, but now he participates more. He truly understands what I’m doing and he contributes his ideas or reactions during the photo shoots. Also, if I stop shooting for a long time, he will remind me to start taking photos again. The more we continue with the project, the better we know and trust each other. I also believe that we are more aware of the fact that we are a couple than other couples.
I know that you are also in the band PIMO together. Do you think there is any downside to having careers that are so heavily intertwined?
I really cannot think of any downsides. Maybe only when the relationship ends, we might have model release problem.
Words by Ella Storey
Photography by Pixy Liao