This is the first time I've shown my photography, video, sculpture, and design work in one coherent exhibition. I have been making sculpture and video works for almost 10 years, but most people only know me as a photographer.
Born in Shanghai and now living in New York, artist Pixy Liao has garnered much attention for her photographs that question gender dynamics, relationships, cultural stereotypes and traditions. In her first museum show, Liao presents her celebrated imagery alongside her lesser-known artworks, revealing she is as much a sculptor and filmmaker as she is a photographer. We catch up with Liao to discover more about her major exhibition at Fotografiska New York.
Tell us how your show at Fotografiska, New York came about?
Your Gaze Belongs to Me is my first museum exhibition. Holly Roussell, who curated the exhibition, has been a close collaborator and this will be the third exhibition that we've worked on together.
The presentation includes my photography as well as sculpture, video, and installation works. Originally, we had planned to premiere Your Gaze Belongs to Me at Fotografiska in Stockholm last summer, but the pandemic changed our plans and the exhibition debuted at the New York location instead. I’m so glad that the show is now open as the city has started to come back to life.
Alongside the 50 works from your two series, Experimental Relationship and For Your Eyes Only, you’re also exhibiting some video and sculptural works. This is the first time these works have been shown together. Why did you decide to group these differing mediums for your show?
I have been making sculpture and video works for almost 10 years, but most people only know me as a photographer. In my exhibition at Fotografiska, I designed an installation room that displays my sculpture and video works. The room belongs to a follower of the Evil Women Cult, which is a new conceptual project I have been working on that focuses on the experiences and leadership of women. I imagined this follower living in a room with gender symbolic wallpaper, carpet, and all kinds of weird objects that are meaningful to their beliefs. Everything in the room is very specific. I’m so grateful that Fotografiska provided a space for me to show my work outside of photography. This is the first time I've shown my photography, video, sculpture, and design work in one coherent exhibition.
The look of your photographs is interesting. They’ve been described as being ‘shot with cinematic warmth and a somewhat laid-back, vintage aesthetic.’ How did you develop such an individual style?
My aesthetic is influenced by my love of film, historic places and vintage objects, and my time spent in Memphis. While pursuing my MFA in Photography at The University of Memphis, I also minored in filmmaking and was deeply influenced by the surrounding area. I love how the city has been touched by time, which you can see through films such as Mystery Train. I am also a lover of all things vintage, whether it’s buildings, objects or clothing, because I love things that have human traces. Overall, my time in Memphis helped me to develop my personal visual style.
Your two series on the show are rooted in exploration, a lot of it is very personal. What have you learned from creating a series so connected to your own life?
I admire artists who intertwine their life and artwork because when you look at their work, you feel like you know the artist as a person. Sophie Calle is a great example. In my mind, this way of working is an efficient and honest way to create art. You take the nutrition from your life and translate it into your work, so much so that the work becomes part of your life. Of course, this depends on how you live and work, and if the two will benefit or hurt each other. It's a careful balance to maintain because work and life will always affect each other.
What is of interest to you, in the photo-based art world, right now?
Social media has opened up the possibility for people to easily take photos and share their work. Because of this, the photo-based art world has become more democratic and accessible. Everyone has a chance to express themselves no matter if they are established or on the fringes, and platforms are no longer limited to the very few gatekeepers in the art world. You can have an audience just by being yourself and I find that very exciting.
You are celebrated for investigating gender inversion and challenging the typical relationship age gap, stereotypes, and traditions within relationships. What have you learned by exploring these social structures and themes?
I'm interested in investigating the similarities and differences between men and women. My work interrogates gender stereotypes and traditions within heterosexual relationships and questions whether the assumptions we hold are created by society. Over the course of the past 10 years, I've realized that your age, experiences, and personality play a larger part in determining your role in a relationship rather than gender alone. If we take all of these elements into account, we can begin to question why these stereotypes should still exist in the first place.