Photos Of The Day: "Experimental Relationship"
Pixy Yijun Liao
As a modern woman of the 21st century, I am all about turning gender stereotypes on their conservative little heads. Which is why I am such a fan of other individuals doing the same thing by fighting the good fight - especially when that fight takes the form of thoughtful nuanced artwork, like Pixy Yijun Liao’s series, “Experimental Relationship.” Granted, Liao’s work may be preaching to the choir here, as I doubt Dave from Alabama is going to opt for waxing poetic about the gender roles we still find ourselves in while viewing a photography series which explores just that, but a girl can dream, right? Right. In any case I am here to talk with increasing enthusiasm and flowery vocabulary about Liao’s work, because it’s pretty damned awesome.
Liao began exploring gender roles in her series “Experimental Relationship” after a year of dating a Japanese musician 5 years her junior. Liao was looking to explore what would happen if a man and woman were to switch their assigned roles of gender and power. Says Liao:
Text: Rae Tashman
Feb. 27, 2017
Labels: On track, May I introduce
"The ideas of traditional gender roles are still very strong in China…China is much more open than in the past, and it's common for women to work and have high social positions. But feudal thoughts that have been passed down from thousands of years ago still influence the way men and women are viewed in Chinese society. Growing up I was always told there is no need to work too hard, but more importantly to marry a man who can support me, have kids, be mother and a wife." (via Dazed&Confused)
Agency is clearly a dominant theme of "Experimental Relationship," whether it is between Liao and her partner or the viewer and Liao:
In several images, the release chord can be seen, reminding us as viewers in the purposeful creation of these images as well as the dominate and resolute act of actually taking the photograph. Liao has created these images on purpose and is forcing us to look at them.
The majority of Liao’s photographs in “Experimental Relationship” also take on an almost cinematographic quality, and in this way many of these images where either Liao, her partner, or both of them look directly at the viewer, seem to break the fourth wall. This direct eye contact is another way in which Liao establishes agency and asserts dominance - albeit in surprising ways. In one photograph, we see her partner making direct eye contact with us, the viewer, establishing what we would perceive as agency. And yet, although only Liao’s hand can be seen in this frame, she asserts dominance over her partner by the placement of her thumb on her partner’s mouth. The image that feels both intimate and downright pornographic and yet Liao's thumb could be any femal's thumb smashing down the patriarchy, and that is all kinds of empowering.
Not to be overlooked in these series of photos is also the complicated political history between China and Japan as well as the role that age gaps play between partners and how these two aspects - age and cultural identity - affect power structures within a relationship.