Reimagining affection in a changing Shanghai: a rhizomatic young cartography of Birdhead’s contemporary photography

Joaquin Lopez Mugica, Thomas Whyke

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review


The article examines the dynamics of space surrounding Shanghai’s rampant urban change as experienced by the Chinese artistic duo known as Birdhead. Underpinned by the conceptual framework of the “affective turn”, this study reflects upon and addresses how the photographer’s chaotic photo-essay of Shanghai’s new state housing (Xincun, New Village, 2008) can function as a nexus of place-making. With a claim to impetuous emotion in his works, Birdhead’s contemporary photography pervades a plane of subjects, objects, and affections, in which the city is imagined and experienced as space-body performativity. Understanding Birdhead’s everyday urban practices as performative, we claim that the visual performance of these photographs not just materially shapes the bodies, but also acts as a rhizomatic catalyst for both things-in-themselves and webs of social affection inside and outside Shanghai. As a contribution, this article’s theoretical application to Birdhead’s everyday networks of unruly and frenzied emotional tactics challenges the official formulation of realism. More importantly, their contemporary photography apprehends and territorializes elements of anarchy, at the very same time deterritorializing the omnipresent affective strategies of a propagandistic post-socialist apparatus that pressures the positive over “other” emotional representations of Shanghai.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-294
Number of pages32
JournalAsian Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2023


  • Chinese contemporaneity
  • affective turn
  • new materialism
  • rhizomatic sense of place
  • young “minor” bodies
  • performativity


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