Yuxiao Mu is capturing Memory and Identity in “Phoenix at Sundown”

Yuxiao Mu is capturing Memory and Identity in "Phoenix at Sundown"
Photo by Rebecca Morrison, courtesy of Yuxiao Mu, shared with permission

The Multigenerational Collaboration of “Phoenix at Sundown” by Yuxiao Mu

In the delicate dance between memory and identity lies the heart of Yuxiao Mu‘s poignant work, “Phoenix at Sundown.” Through a multigenerational collaboration spanning continents, Yuxiao delves into the complexities of familial bonds, aging, and the ethereal nature of memory. This profound exploration is encapsulated in a series of photographs and soundscapes that weave together the past and present, offering a tender reflection on the passage of time.

Yuxiao Mu’s project is reflecting the intimate relationship with her grandmother, whose advancing age is accompanied by the gradual erosion of memory. Yuxiao captures moments of both tenderness and confusion, painting a portrait of a woman caught between the past and the present. Through the lens of Yuxiao Mu’s camera, we witness the subtle manifestations of memory loss – from forgotten apples stashed away in drawers to the incongruity of fully dressed evenings mistaken for departures.

The geographical distance between Yuxiao Mu in the United States and her grandmother in China adds another layer of complexity to the project. Despite the physical separation, Yuxiao engages in a profound act of connection, directing her mother to capture images of her grandmother and her possessions during video calls. These images serve as a bridge across continents, allowing the artist to participate in the daily rhythms of her grandmother’s life despite the miles between them.

The resulting photographs are not mere snapshots of moments frozen in time; rather, they are visual narratives imbued with emotion and meaning. Yuxiao Mu’s meticulous editing and re-cropping breathe new life into the captured images, inviting viewers to contemplate the shifting landscape of memory and identity. Through juxtaposition and layering, she creates a visual dialogue between past and present, offering a glimpse into the intricate workings of memory.

Accompanying the images is a haunting soundtrack of Yuxiao Mu’s grandmother humming, a melodic thread that weaves through the narrative. This auditory element serves as a poignant reminder of the fleeting nature of memory – a melody that echoes across generations, anchoring Yuxiao’s work in a shared familial history.

“Phoenix at Sundown” is centered with the motif of the mahjong set, a cherished relic of Yuxiao Mu’s family history. Handcrafted by her grandfather and arranged in her grandmother’s idiosyncratic order, the mahjong set serves as a tangible link to the past. The artist decision to create a traditional copperplate print of the mahjong set is a homage to this legacy, a visual representation of the interplay between memory, tradition, and identity.

The project reaches its emotional crescendo in a poignant exchange between Yuxiao Mu and her grandmother as she prepares to depart for the United States. In a gesture of love and farewell, her grandmother bestows upon them a single coin and imparts a timeless wisdom: “When you tell all your secrets to the flowers, you will never be alone, the flowers will always guard your secrets.”

Yuxiao Mu website: https://muyuxiao.com

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