Pixy Liao (Yijun Liao) is a Chinese Shanghai-born photographer, musician and multidisciplinary artist who resides in Brooklyn, NY with her partner and muse, Moro. Pixy holds an MFA in photography from the University of Memphis. She lived in Memphis for three years after coming to the U.S in 2006. During her tenure at the University of Memphis, Pixy met her partner and muse, Moro, who is Japanese and was majoring in jazz through an orientation for international students. She was immediately attracted to him and asked him directly if he wanted to model for her, thus blooming Pixy and Moro’s continued photographic series, Experimental Relationship (2007-present).
After a decade, the couple’s Experimental Relationship photographic series, which stages romantic scenes to realign the roles of gender dynamics and power hierarchies, has continued to play on and challenge images of patriarchal archetypes in heterosexual customary relationships. Pixy reports, “In the beginning, I was very overpowering in the images, as I was in our early relationship.” Pixy describes as a couple they now have a more balanced relationship reflecting on the whole project as an amusing game or collaboration, arranging female dominant vignettes and transgressing how men and women are expected to behave in an intimate relationship (White, 2019). The cable release to operate the camera is shown in almost every photo, complimenting each shoot in fabrication and staging, connecting the viewer to the intimacy of the scene. Moro is usually the person who operates the cable release because Pixy lacks the strength to squeeze the air bulb. Moro consents to the artistic process when he captures the picture.
Pixy refers to Moro as her ‘muse’ when explaining their collaborative and creative relationship. The muse in the art realm is traditionally depicted as a female characterization; images are sometimes nymph-like and often white. Muses can present as sexually aroused, alluring or depicted with subservient like connotations gesturing towards the viewer. Muses are presented or exploited by male artists, subjected from the male gaze. Pixy juxtaposes the male gaze with her female gaze, often taking a more motherly caring stance, to exhibit or eroticize Moro. Such scenes depict Pixy with Moro laying across her lap naked, with her hand raised to spank him. The picture encompasses a sense of a serene afternoon of foreplay as Pixy’s leisurely outfit softens the notion and misconceptions about the possibility of harsh BDSM practices. Another photo shows Moro rolled up as a provocative sushi roll awaiting in bed for Pixy, framed in a bright room with soft sunlight ready to be consumed (May, 2019).
The couple’s most recent photos for Experimental Relationship was from 2018. Pixy and Moro went to China and Japan to visit their families. The cultural contrast is evident from the photos taken from their Brooklyn home in the U.S, juxtaposing the couple wearing intricate Japanese patterned kimonos in a traditional Japanese home with tatami mats. Pixy recently exhibited their new series for Experimental Relationship in a solo show titled ‘Open Kimono’ at Chambers Fine Art Gallery in New York and currently being presented as part of Arles International Photo Festival. Pixy’s creative process for ‘Open Kimono’ was inspired by a genre of Japanese film called Pinky Violence that follows the trials and tribulations of female yakuza who are a transnational crime syndicate beginning in Japan (May, 2019).
Inspiration from powerful, strong and dominant women continues to activate Pixy’s artistic senses. Pixy has raised an installation titled Temple For Her (2019) dedicated to the only recognized Chinese empress, Wu Zeitan, who inspired Pixy as a little girl. She credits Wu Zeitan as a role model who can motivate women today, promoting strength and taking on leadership roles. Women role models are very important to Chinese girls especially because toxic masculinity and patriarchy are still prevalent in Chinese culture, as well as globally. Temple For Her is an inaugural contribution to Pixy’s, ‘Evil Women Cult Series.’ Viewers must climb a utility ladder to look into the white box. Inside the box there is a narrow red staircase that ascends to a phallic throne. At the bottom of the stairs there is a pool of blood in the shape of a sacrificed woman. The viewer being the only one who can see into the white box may feel a sense of isolation when observing a sculpture only visible to their eyes. The same sense of isolation may have been espoused by Emperor Wu on her ascension to power (Shan, 2019). In lieu of adding to ‘Evil Women Cult Series,’ Pixy is researching notorious female leaders such as Japanese Queen Himiko, Queen Elizabeth I and Isabella of France due to the popularity of the “nasty woman” slogan made popular by Donald Trump. Pixy explains her transgressions of gender associations are not just necessary for China but for Western countries as well, even with the long history of feminism and LGBTQIA+ movements. “American people are familiar with the idea of gender equality and diversity but that doesn’t mean they all agree with it” (May, 2019).
Pixy describes women in society are often seen as meek, weak and subservient in heterosexual relationships. Women are often expected to be polite and well mannered without “not necessarily evil– but mischievous desires.” Pixy uses humor in her imagery and her vision, which is key to bringing her attitude across in her work. Her subject matter can be strongly critiqued from a feminist standpoint, but Pixy is mostly interested in how human emotions and desires are delegated “which cannot be entirely politically correct” (Shan, 2019).
Exampling this perspective, Pixy was inspired by a popular internet phrase, “I’m unhappy, I want bags,” to explain her project, Men as Bags (2016). To Pixy, this internet sentence means when a female seeks comfort from a man, she asks him to buy her a luxury bag. Luxury bags are intended to portray a sense of class, taste, wealth and lifestyle. A gift of a bag to a woman from a man explains a symbol of love from a gift, a woman is carrying her man’s devotion for her, viewers can also see human skin as a bag carrying a whole person’s existence (pixyliao.com/men-as-bags).
In her project Breast Spray (2015), Pixy explores what is the functionality of the breast and how breasts are depicted. Pixy reports her inspiration for Breast Spray was from reading the news about a bizarre robbery in Germany. A woman held up a store by showing the cashier an open blouse, exposing her right breast. The woman squeezed breast milk right into the cashier’s eyes, blinding him. She then snatched the money from his register and escaped. Pixy was enamored by this woman’s behavior because the story rebukes common conceptions of what people think about women’s breasts. Are they sexy, soft, motherly and comforting or a dangerous weapon? Breasts have the ability to feed, fondle or blind. When breast milk shoots, it can feed and offer comfort, or attack and blind, which are agonistic and antagonistic behaviors (pixyliao/breat-spray-1).
To keep their relationship balanced, Pixy and Moro also have an electronic/rock/synthesizer band called PIMO. I am assuming their name is comprised from the first two letters of their names; Pi-xy and Mo-ro= PIMO. Moro is the lead creative steward of PIMO while Pixy sings and takes creative direction from Moro. PIMO also has a published pictorial dictionary of nomenclature shared by Pixy and Moro since they communicate in less than fluent English, mannerisms and slang. Pixy’s native language is Mandarin, and Moro’s native language is Japanese. Neither one can understand or speak each other’s native language. PIMO is an amalgamation of electro-synth pop, folk, rock inspired by Pixy and Moro’s Experimental Relationship spanning over a decade. PIMO’s albums include Pimopera, We Girls EP, Yamete!, Hello World and 2080.
Freunden Von Freunden. https://www.freundevonfreunden.com/features/new-york-city-pixy-liao
May, E (2019). Questioning traditional gender roles with Chinese Photographer Pixy Liao.
Shan, T (2019). The Power of Deception to Subvert Heteronormativity: Artist Pixy Liao subverts gender norms with playful yet threatening humor. Hyperallergenic. https://hyperallergic.com/496304/pixy-liao/
White, R (2019). What pixy liao’s photography tells us about love. i-D VICE https://i-d.vice.com/en
Written by Karen Lee– Weekend Family Music Hour
Weekend Family Music Hour has been with Freeform Portland since the station was established. As a family we have grown with the station & feel so privileged to have an affordable family activity that brings us together with your family’s lives, letting us share our musical household tastes. We love reciting Chinese horoscope predictions for Asian Lunar New Year, playing our Moog on Halloween, selecting songs based on politics or societal challenges and holidays! Check out our seasonal shows! Mostly ethnic; folk, rock, synth, disco, soul, hip-hop, experimental and jazz/tongue jazz.