Pixy Liao (b. 1979) is a photographer, artist and musician from Shanghai, currently based in New York. She began her career as a graphic designer, but grew frustrated with her lack of creative freedom. Attracted to photography for the greater flexibility it could offer her (she has described it as ‘painting with reality’), she moved to the U.S.A to pursue an MFA in Photography at the University of Memphis. The majority of Pixy’s work features performative self-portraits, a style inspired by the photographer Elina Brotherus.
It was during her MFA that Pixy met her partner and frequent collaborator, Moro. Through her relationship with Moro she began her most recognised long term project, Experimental Relationship (2007 onwards). The series features intimate images of herself and Moro which subvert cultural norms; Pixy reports that her peers initially reacted with surprise at Moro’s willingness to assume an apparently submissive position. Photographs such as Start Your Day With a Good Breakfast Together (2009), wherein Pixy eats papaya from Moro’s naked body, are striking in their evocation of women’s sexual agency. Rather than simply asserting female domination, however, Pixy presents heterosexual relationships as partnerships between equals.
Tender portraits such as The Hug by the Pond (2010) emphasise shared vulnerability, and the recurrent motif of the ‘airbulb’ shutter release – a symbol of control – changes hands between Pixy and Moro throughout the series. Though often playful – Pixy has commented that humour is a crucial element of her work – her photography rigorously challenges stereotypical gender dynamics, sharply interrogating the ways men and women are expected to relate to each other. Pixy is now developing projects which represent women’s experiences more widely, specifically around the themes of desire and ambition. Her work reveals her ability to conceptualise and undermine the external pressures enforced upon the role of women and their relationships with others.
By Katherine Riley