PIXY LIAOThe Hug by the Pond, 2010, photography, 75 × 100 cm. All images courtesy the artists.

Pixy Liao’s Radical Intimacy: “Experimental Relationship (for your eyes only, or maybe mine, too)”

Centre A
USA China Japan

Pixy Liao’s “Experimental Relationship (for your eyes only, or maybe mine, too)” is near-perfectly suited, by sheer coincidence, to the exigencies of quarantine. Centered on Liao’s ongoing photographic and performative series featuring herself and her boyfriend, Moro, the superbly focused presentation by Centre A curator Henry Heng Lu opens up spaces of playful intimacy at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to experiment with connecting from afar. 

Liao’s photographs are particularly poignant at this time for capturing what we perhaps once took for granted. The Hug by the Pond (2010) portrays a naked Moro and the artist, wearing a nude bodysuit, embracing atop a large rock by a pond. Framed slightly off-center, the lovers are enveloped by the lush greens of the surrounding forest, itself reflected in the clear, still water. The sense of ease that the bare-skinned subjects exude and their comfortable vulnerability among nature is a welcome break from the guardedness and isolation that many currently feel; a voyeuristic catharsis.

Interior close-ups of Liao’s outstretched hand edging toward Moro (Touching Knees, 2015) and their overlapping palms on a Golden Mouse (2014) affirm the warmth and intimacy found in domestic spaces. Likewise, the video Cool Grandma (2018) by PIMO (a portmanteau of Pixy and Moro) evokes a quirky home video of the couple taking turns dressing up as a white-haired old lady in a cramped apartment, before venturing outside for a picnic with Moro in costume. While the latter activity is not advised, goofing around at home has not yet been canceled.

PIXY LIAO, Touching Knees, 2015, photography, 75 × 100 cm.
PIXY LIAO, Touching Knees, 2015, photography, 75 × 100 cm.
PIXY LIAO, You don’t have to be a boy to be my boyfriend, 2010, photography, 100 × 75 cm.
PIXY LIAO, You don’t have to be a boy to be my boyfriend, 2010, photography, 100 × 75 cm.

Gender reversal is a recurring motif in Liao’s work. In You don’t have to be a boy to be my boyfriend (2010–19), Moro is outfitted in a blue, floral minidress, coquettishly eating raspberries off his fingertips, whereas A Study of A House Husband (2018) features the young man steaming a tank top, with the clothing and garment appliance in matching shades of pink. Depictions of the duo together, such as Electric Head Massage (2017), often show Liao initiating contact, upending the stereotypical dynamic of the sexually submissive woman. Yet it would be unfair to reduce the artist’s practice to a mere power swap; through Liao’s loving gaze, the images evince a feeling of consensual levelling, of a secure equilibrium.

A work that the digital presentation does not showcase as effectively is the PIMO Dictionary (2010), a glossary of hybrid Chinese/ Japanese/English neologisms the pair invented to transcend their language barrier—Liao’s mother tongue is Chinese and Moro’s is Japanese; they mostly communicate in English. The book is represented online via photographs of open pages. I was taken by a beautifully placed cut-out of the letter “I” overlaying a picture of the two; no doubt the tactility of rifling through the book’s pages would have added to the overall experience of an exhibition so deeply concerned with themes of voyeurism, intimacy, and physical touch. 

Incidentally the most sensuous shot to me is not one of the couple but of a glistening, tricolored Jello (2015) resting on the back of a hand placed on beige carpet; it makes me wonder when we may relish the material voluptuousness of the world, liberated from panicked reproof and the paranoid scrubbing of hands.

PIXY LIAO, Jello, 2015, photography, 75 × 100 cm.

Ophelia Lai is ArtAsiaPacific’s associate editor.

Pixy Liao’s “Experimental Relationship (for your eyes only, or maybe mine, too)” is available online. The show was originally scheduled to open at Centre A, Vancouver, on April 3, 2020, as part of the Capture Photography Festival 2020.

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