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All Photo Stroll iPhone photos, © Miranda Gavin. Photos of work © Birdhead.
If you want to get a taste of contemporary Shaghai in the 21st century, then head down to Paradise Row gallery where the debut London solo show of Shanghai-based photographic duo Birdhead – set up in 2004 by friends Ji Weiyu and Song Tao – is on for the next two weeks.
Daily life in China is captured through a series of black and white images, Welcome to Birdhead World Again, using a snapshot aesthetic and arranged for the show as a series of grids and sets of multiple images. The images are specifically arranged and organised, much in the same way collectors categorise objects, while the grid arrangement allows the work to be read and experienced in multiple ways; left to right, right to left, up and down and vice versa, as well as diagonally. this arrangement could also been seen as echoing the block-like structure of buildings and the layout of many modern cities, making the reading of the work as dynamic as the city itself.
The classical Song dynasty poem, Youth Does Not Know How Sorrow Tastes, by Xin Qiji and translated by John Scott and Graham Martin, is re-presented in the gallery space and provides inspiration for the images . “Each word of the poem is extracted photographically from neon signs and billboards around the city”, writes Katie Hill in the catalogue; fragments from the past appropriated from contemporary culture. One gallery visitor commented that the translation was, perhaps, too flowery. Welcome to Birdhead World Again runs until 4 April and is highly recommended.
Being touted as China’s hottest duo, Birdhead showed work at the recent 54th Venice Biennale. See over for more about the work.
All photos above © Birdhead, courtesy of the gallery.
Birdhead “use photography to capture, mediate and occupy their contemporary experience of daily life in Shanghai, China’s greatest metropolis whose ever increasing scale and vitality is more than itself – being read the world over as a gauge of the flow of power from West to East.
“Their tactical use of the snapshot aesthetic and the high volume of images they deploy make manifest a visual stream of consciousness. We see the artists going about their lives; being with friends, laughing, talking, eating, working, partying, sleeping etc. all this against the backdrop of the urban landscape of Shanghai. Tall towers, skyscrapers, telecoms masts and vast flyovers punctuate the images of human activity, of youth and consumer culture, illustrating the strange symbiosis between inanimate infrastructure and the life that it shelters and facilitates.
“Alongside their images, Birdhead present, Youth Does Not Know How Sorrow Tastes by Xin Qiji, a classic poem from the Song dynasty era. A melancholy masterpiece, the poem reflects upon the arc of experience that forms each life, the Romantic naiveté of youth and the price paid for wisdom. In common with Birdhead’s sensibility, the poem is imbued with the pathos of the individual set against the sweep of historical time.’ From the press release.
Mitchell Hartman is a freelance photo-illustrator and retoucher. He received his BFA in commercial illustration from the School of Visual Arts and his work employs a combination of photo collage and digital technique to present a view of the world that mimics the eye's tendency to "see" things in fragments. He lives and works in New York City.