Born and raised in Shanghai, China, Yijun Liao (Pixy) is an artist currently residing in Brooklyn, NY. She is a recipient of the En Foco’s New Works Photography Fellowship and was a winner of the Flash Forward Award (Canada) in 2011, CPW Photography Now in 2009, and Hey, Hot Shot in 2008. She was also a Honorable Mentionee of the New York Photo Awards in 2009 at the New York Photo Festival and was a finalist of the ITS Photo Award (Italy). Liao’s photographs have been exhibited internationally, including NordArt (Germany), Kunst Licht Gallery (China), Arario Gallery (NY), VT Artsalon (Taiwan), The Running Horse Contemporary Art Space (Lebanon), Pingyao International Photography Fest (China), Lianzhou International Photography Fest (China), etc,.
Liao was the artist in residence at Woodstock AIR program in 2010. She is currently in residence at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and will do a darkroom residency at the Camera Club of New York in the end of 2013.
Liao’s main body of work is called “Experimental Relationship”, which is an ongoing series of self-portraits of her and her 5-year-younger boyfriend Moro. It depicts a heterosexual relationship when a woman is more dominant. Most of her other works are related to this project. Her works deal with issues regarding intimate relationships, gender roles, female dominance and interests in the feminine side of men.
Our contributing writer, Jey Dong, recently had the chance to catch up with Pixy…
Congratulations on your new exhibition! Tell us more about it.
Thanks! The exhibition is called “New Works #16” at Longwood Art Gallery, running through August 31, 2013. It is En Foco’s photography fellowship awards exhibition. I am one of the two winners and I am showing half of my new works and half of my old works.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your artistic path?
I was always interested in art since I was a kid. I did graphic design as my hobby and became a graphic designer after my undergraduate study. I realized that once it becomes a job, it becomes so boring. I always have to meet clients’ requirements. I really want to create things which I have a final say. At that time, I watched a movie called “Blow Up”, The main character – the photographer – in the film inspired me. He’s completely free when he’s creating works. I thought being a photographer is so cool, and wanted to become a photographer. I started to apply for school in the US and I picked University of Memphis because I heard a lot of musicians – including Elvis – were there in Memphis, and I always love musicians. I met a musician there and he became my boyfriend. After graduation, we moved to New York and continued to make art.
You are best known for your project “Experimental Relationship,” but I love your earlier project about Memphis as well.
I love Memphis. It is a wonderful backdrop for photography or film. It is old and wild. Even the most common place are so interesting. The way they decorate things is so unique. It has its own southern history and it is not changed that much like other big cities. It influenced me a lot.
How do you transition from the landscape to your personal relationship?
In between I have another project called “Stills From Unseen Films,” which reflects my transition from landscape to people. In that project, I looked for locations that are perfect backdrops for stories to happen and then I asked people to play part in it. I asked Moro, my boyfriend, to be my model in many photos. I asked him to lie in a suitcase or something like that. A lot of people questions the way I treat my boyfriend in the photos, but for us, it is completely natural and we enjoy doing that. I feel that it is the interest point and I started to take photos of us together.
How do you feel about inviting people to look at your very intimate life?
I feel there are a lot of doubts and misunderstanding toward the relationship that is not considered normal or traditional. In this project I want to explain how things work and I want to explain why. Any two different individuals match each other in a very unique way. There is no one way that works for everyone.
What is the relationship between the project “Experimental Relationship” with your real relationship with Moro?
I view everything as an experiment. I like to try new things and I like not knowing the results. Life is an experiment and so is the relationship. You never know what is going to happen. I just keep trying, and by doing that I know more about the relationship and keeps it going. The project influences our relationship and so does the relationship influence my photos. It kind of syncs my artwork with my life.
What is the process like? How do you come up with a concept and start to set up for the camera?
The ideas just come from our daily life. It could be something Moro did or said, something we talked about, or a joke we had on the train. I write the ideas down and then wait until I have a very good idea to visualize it in the photos. I will tell Moro what my intention is and sometimes he gives me some suggestions. In the shoot, we improvise and perform in front of the camera. It is a thought process. Sometimes Moro will do something that is completely out of my expectation and gives me some inspirations during the shoot. Because it is about relationships so it is important to have his thought in the photos as well. Then, I think about the title for a couple of days and find something that fits.
I notice that in the photos, sometimes Moro presses the cable release and sometimes you do. What kind of power relationship or gender roles in the relationship does it indicate?
Most of the time, I will give him the cable release, because physically it is very hard to press the air bulb. At the same time, I have the control over the whole situation. He is more like an extension cord – I am controlling the control he has. In a relationship you can not control everything. You have to give up something. But at the same time, I have to have the overall control.
Do you consider yourself as a feminist?
I don’t think so. A feminist will urge everyone to do things in her way, while I don’t feel my way fits everybody. There shouldn’t be only one answer.
Tell us about your new project.
It is a new series of works called “For Your Eyes Only.” It is an extension of “Experimental Relationship.” In my old works, each photo has a very specific topic and can not stand by itself. I have to show a series of photos for people to understand my intention. I think it limits my art work. I want to do something that is more open ended. I pay more attention to body rather than the person, and take more close-ups. They are very vague in meanings but erotic and intrigue people’s desire to look at them. Also it is a very playful and naughty alternative to porn photos, which are very straightforward. These photos look very sexy but instead of turning you on, they turn you off in a certain way.
In your new works, there are also a variety of art forms that are simply beyond photography.
Yeah, those are my attempts to explore photography in other media or forms such as installation, video and performance. I feel the photo world is limited in a way. It has its own circle. If you are only a photographer, you might take really good photos but it is hard to get out of the photo world and get seen by other people.
Is there a turning point to this change of mind?
Yes, I think it was the residency in 2010 in the CPW, the Center of Photography at Woodstock. I took a book making workshop, and made a little book called Pimo Dictionary (Pimo: Pixy and Moro, note by JD). It was then that I realized I can make objects other than taking photos, and I really enjoyed it.
Also the city of New York changes me a lot. Instead of being merely photo-minded, I get interested in exploring other media. I want to do something that is based on my ideas rather than on the medium. And there are so many chances and opportunities, such as my current residency at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC).
You seem benefit a lot from artist-in-residency programs, and what is special about this one?
I think artist-in-residencies are very good opportunities for the artists. It gives you the space and time to create something new. Every residency changes my works and pushes me to go to a new direction.
My current LMCC residency gives us access to specialized facilities and resources. Now I have access to 3D printer at NYU Advanced Media Lab, which I had never tried before. At NYU AMS lab, the technician there even taught me basic 3D modeling. It’s amazing! During this residency, I meet with 17 visual artists and 8 writers. I’ve become friends with them and get to know their life and see their work progress. And we also get a lot of publicity and exposures through open studios and studio visits.
Did you use 3D printer to make the high heel piece? What is the story behind it?
I almost never wear high heeled shoes. I’m intrigued by how women support their whole body weight on such thin and tiny heels, and be able to balance themselves and walk with elegance. I’m also interested in how women wearing high heels are viewed as sexy in our society, and how it becomes a visual pleasure for men. I want to further test the mystery of attractiveness of high heel shoes. I imagined myself wearing a pair of shoes with soft penes and testicles as the heels, would I be able to balance and walk? Would I be viewed as sexy walking in them? Does the fact that I’m walking on soft penes turn men down, or does it even increase their interest? So I made myself a pair of high heels with heels shaped like my boyfriend’s penis. The heels are printed from 3D printer with soft rubber-like material. In order to walk on these soft high heels, I need to balance myself every step I made. I put most of my weight on my toes and managed to finish the walk.
The objects on the table remind me of the pantyhose and sand work by Senga Nengudi.
We use similar material, and both works look very fleshy. For my “objects”, Moro was one who actually made them. And they are made with stretchy pink fabric and pillow stuffings.
The penes project is mainly about our relationship. I ordered 100 penes from Moro. I told him that he can make them into any shapes as long as they are soft. It’s his contribution to me.
What is coming up?
I and Moro created a two-person band called Pimo, that is Pixy and Moro. Moro is the bandleader. The music is mainly Moro’s point of view towards our relationship. We are going to have a performance this month for Make Music Festival in New York. There will be a lot of musicians playing music on the street. And we are going to play music in Coney Island and Williamsburg.
In July, I’ll go back to Shanghai to collaborate with my friend on a short film project.
From October, I will do a three-month darkroom residency at the Camera Club of New York. Finally darkroom time!
For more information about Pixy, please visit her website.
Zhenjie Dong is a Chinese born and New York based artist exploring ways to express her social and political concerns through photography. She spoke at TEDxCreative Coast 2012 about her work Recreating Myth and the philosophy behind it. Her works have been exhibited in the Atlanta Photography Group Gallery and the North Carolina Museum of Art. Her video work Illness has been shown at Lumen Prize moving Image Art Festival in Hong Kong. And her work is part of the global tour of the Lumen Prize Exhibition, travelling around the world in United Kingdom, Latvia, China and Wales.