For the third edition of Baroness, photographer Yushi Li takes us on a journey of desire, fantasy and looking, through a photographic study of the male body. For Li’s debut book cover, the photographer has chosen a photograph of a penis. In a heteropatriarchy, where men are represented in the media as big and strong, here the penis is small, flaccid and trapped, presenting a playful, slightly violent, but gentle and almost comical gaze.
The naked male bodies in Li’s works are not intended for consumption. Instead, the male body is represented in its relation to other elements in the frame, which always involves a staging of a scene, a fantasy. The domestic space and the mundane activities in the works, invite the viewer to see beyond the naked body. The man in her images is the phallus, the signifier of desire – the desire of the (m)Other. Li’s portrayal of the body is a condensation of the imaginary: the unknown paternal and maternal body– and the fantasy of the absent (m)Other.
Throughout the book, Li questions the gaze through different works. ‘My Tinder Boys’ is a set of photographs of naked young men in their kitchens — always soft-fleshed and flaccid, mostly gazing off-camera. ‘Your Reservation is Confirmed’, further develops ideas around consumption and satisfaction. Rather than Tinder, this time it’s Airbnb — a hook-up App for houses. Each image takes us to a new room, in a new house, occupied by a new naked man and often Li herself, fully clothed, engaged in some kind of leisure activity.
In Li’s most recent series ‘Paintings, Dreams and Love’, we are invited to look at paintings through a different lens. Inspired by classical oil paintings of female nudes, Li creates a ‘cornucopia’ of men in the diptych ‘The Feast’, while Titian’s ‘Death of Actaeon’ is re-enacted, with the artist outside pointing her bow and arrow both beyond the frame but also ostensibly at a naked man inside. In ‘The Dream of the Fisherwoman’, we see Hokusai’s writhing, erotic octopus become a fishmonger’s corpse, draped across a serenely bathing boy.
Li plays with the power dynamic inherent in looking relations further in her moving image work ‘I Hope You Like What You Have Seen’, in which Li asked different men to perform naked, mundane activities for her to watch via Skype. In these video chats, Li tries to become the digital eye, not a woman, nor a man, that is constantly looking at us.
Through both looking back at old paintings, and looking directly via the webcam, Li leads us to drift between the physical and the virtual, the conscious and the unconscious, approaching a new form of theatre, desire and spectatorship.
Baroness by Yushi Li also includes an introduction by psychoanalyst and writer Anouchka Grose.
Yushi Li Bio
Yushi Li is a Chinese artist, based in London. She holds an MA in Photography and is now doing her PhD in Arts & Humanities, at the Royal College of Art. Li received the Royal Photography Society Hundred Heroines Award in 2019 and was one of the winners of the Female in Focus prize in 2021. Li’s work has been exhibited internationally, with a recent group show at Fotografiska, Stockholm and solo shows at Union Gallery, London and Vasli Souza, Oslo.
Published by Baron, 128 pgs, 26 × 20 cm, Hardcover, 2022, 9781838424848