In memoriam of the May 4 Movement, aka the New Culture Movement (1910-present)
Julie Curates China appears every Wednesday in Hoje Macau
When Cinderello puts his foot in the loafer, it fits perfectly?
The story of Phyllis riding the great Aristotle dates back to the 13th century in German and French versions, but John Herold’s Latin version from the 14th century made Phyllis a celebrity. Herold was a Dominican monk who compiled examples that could be used in sermons. According to his version, Aristotle had warned his student, Alexander the Great, to avoid intimate affairs with his wife, Phyllis. Alexander should, instead, concentrate on philosophy. Phyllis was upset that her husband was shunning her. And she was angry at Aristotle and the old, wise man’s “guidance”. To exact revenge, Phyllis started flirting with the philosopher until she succeeded seducing him and riding him like a horse while Alexander watched from behind the door where he hid. Western culture is overflowing with the fear for women and the fear has produced endless unforgettable female icons that are recycled time and again in art and poetry, Eve, Delilah, Salomé, Medea, to name a few. And their images are without doubt the result of “the male gaze”, because Phyllis eventually became naked. The market demand for mass-produced imagery is another important foundation for the recurring theme – if not ideology.
Chinese artist Pixy Yijun Liao’s photography series “Experimental Relationship” (above) follows her romantic relationship with her Japanese boyfriend who is five years younger than her. It took Liao some time to get used to the idea. Most Chinese women grow up with the idea that 1. She must marry. 2. She must marry a man who is older and wiser and more mature, who can be her protector and mentor. “Husband” in popular, modern Chinese language is 先生，meaning “he who was born before me”, “master”. Checking Chinese dating website I came across maddening pieces of advice and instruction as to how to find an elite husband. Unmarried career woman of a certain age, 剩女, is not only a label that bears social stigma, but it’s also a degrading insult.
Phyllis has not been Liao’s inspiration, I’m sure. Experimental Relationship subverts gender expectations and power roles in its own social context which is meaningful. In photogenic poses, the photographer eats papaya off her boyfriend’s naked body, or she is fully clothed tweaking his nipple while he is in his underpants, or she rides on his neck like a son on his father’s, or he wears a dress, or he is made into a piece of human sushi… Photography is visual art and for me it’s about visuals. Did the photographer intend to establish “the non-gay female gazer”? Did she succeed?
PS: Researching Phyllis’ story, I came across a few posters made by Donaldson Lithography Company at the beginning of the 20th century for hypnotisers and theatre performers to use for their shows.