Curator Eva Respini talks with Birdhead.
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Ji Weiyu and Song Tao work together under the collective name Birdhead, making photographs of Shanghai, their hometown. Like the metropolis, their photographs teem with energy, and within the large grid of pictures no image or narrative is given preference. Birdhead’s photographs chronicle the social fabric of the city and capture seemingly unremarkable encounters in daily life. Potted plants, a bonsai, overgrown bushes, and a knotted tree trunk are presented alongside newly constructed bridges, detritus lapping at the shore of the Huangpu River, traditional dwellings dwarfed by new apartment towers, and the distinctive Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower. Images of friends and strangers the artists encounter in their wanderings around the city are also present. At the center of the grid is a self-portrait, emphasizing that the artists’ view of Shanghai is rooted in their own experiences of the city. In addition, presented in traditional mahogany frames and reminiscent of scrolls in their vertical format, photographs of eight Chinese characters found around the city constitute a verse from a classic Chinese poem (“And so, with joy in my heart, I hum this song”), written in 207 CE by Han Dynasty warlord and poet Cao Cao, linking the past to the present.

Birdhead’s compulsive picture making mirrors contemporary culture’s saturation with images and the current fascination with self-documentation via online platforms like Facebook and Instagram, although the artists eschew digital technology in favor of analog cameras. For Birdhead, an individual photograph can never be more than a small fragment of a larger worldview. The artists’ habitual practice and connection with the physical environment through their pictures encourages the viewer to reflect on a time, a place, and how China’s new generation sees itself.

Birdhead is a photographic collective founded in 2004, consisting of Ji Weiyu (Chinese, born 1980) and Song Tao (Chinese, born 1979). Both artists graduated from the Shanghai Arts and Crafts School in 2000; Ji also studied at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. Ji and Song live and work in Shanghai.