Pixy Liao – Experimental Relationship Vol.1 (2007–2017)
Photographer: Pixy Liao, born in Shanghai, China; resides in Brooklyn, NY
Publisher: Jiazazhi Press, Ningbo, China; © 2018
Introductory Essay: Pixy Liao
Text: Chinese and English
Stiff covers, sewn; 160 pages, not paginated, with 77 color images; list of captions, dates, and locations; 17 x 26 cm; (E = 500 + 500, first and second printings)
Photobook Designers: Pixy Liao, Yinhe Cheng
Review by Gerhard Clausing
This photobook was more than ten years in the making, and it is an engrossing experience for the viewers as well. Pixy and Moro are a young couple somewhat less predictably matched, if one goes by social expectations – she is five years older than he is; she is of Chinese descent and he has Japanese origins; they have been living all this time in the United States, in English-speaking environments. To add to the complex picture, he is a musician (PIMO) and she is a photographer with an MFA from the U of Memphis, and they collaborate in creating both challenging photographs and music performances – a most creative couple indeed.
So this photographed personal narrative is also a humorous challenge for the audience, done with much verve and a twinkle in everyone’s eyes, showing delightful visual and verbal surprises, yet with serious implications for greater gender equality and tolerance in relationships. Pixy Liao has been spending all these years (2007–2017) not only doing many couple self-portraits and individual portraits that illustrate ups and downs as well as playful, creative moments, but also has endeavored to illustrate some possibilities that challenge many clichés and preconceived notions.
And so it is a delight to be the invited voyeur, looking in on the depictions, real or staged as some of them may be. In fact, it seems to be a blurring of reality and fiction: reality has become a stage, and the stage reflects reality. We see the swapping and sharing of clothes between male and female; we see unusual twists combining visual, verbal and physical playfulness, such as the arrangement of Moro as a human, home-made sushi presentation. We are also aware that the real (or virtual?) cable release is not always controlled by only one of the two, testifying to the benefits of collaboration. And, by the way, congratulations for pulling off this project with good taste throughout, even where clothing is scant or absent!
The titles Liao has given some of the images are further testament to the novel approach to challenging conventional expectations: “Liven up your conversation with a novel approach” for an image in which she does a nude headstand in bed next to him; “How a man reacts to female violence” for a shot where she sits on top of him in bed; “You don’t have to be a boy to be my boyfriend” – and, as a bit of additional irony directed at the viewer, “I know you are watching us.”
Further fun can be had by looking at the book from the perspective of the meaning of “yellow book” in Chinese culture, which promises forbidden, salacious material. The tiny peekaboo window on the front of the yellow cover of this book is like a keyhole leading to an unknown world of new relationship possibilities: this time the female pinches the nipple of a male, in a fair twist on the well-known 16th-century painting. This time the horizons for playfulness and less predictable behaviors are opened up to allow a more balanced approach, a panorama of possibilities.
This project is most exciting, and I am looking forward to further work from Pixy Liao. For those of you who are interested in going beyond the visual, the publisher has just come out with a little red book called PIMO Dictionary by Pixy Liao and Takahiro Morooka. A companion to this photobook, it contains hints and definitions for relationships, with much humorous and thoughtful material mixing languages and metaphors, and adding private insights and twists, as well as some very cute neologisms.