Means of Exchange Series, 2019
Left to Right:
$56.82, $24.76, $37.89, $31.94, $76.30
Inkjet print
40 x 48″

Creating more than 1.8 million products, the city of Yiwu is the global supplier of dollar stores. In Yiwu, the mix of communities, religions and languages that has followed from the city’s transformation into a global trading hub has given it the reputation as “one of China’s most multicultural cities”. Yiwu’s economy relies heavily on trade and consequently, trade relies on the perception of multiculturalism. Looking to the city of Yiwu as a case study, Means of Exchange questions the reciprocity and perceptions created within an exchange built on the demands of the free market. The series depicts still life displays of products manufactured from Yiwu and imported in in Canada. Positioned on a brightly-coloured wall of refuse paint, the photographs compile collections of fake flowers, streamers, holiday décor and other small commodities that evoke a loud and familiar dollar store environment.

In North America, the phrase “Made in China” is often used synonymously with “poorly-made” and “mass-produced”, though ironically, the importation of these goods also speaks to the demand for them and their regulation overseas. How are acts of labour devalued when regulated to other countries and made invisible? How does the worldwide circulation of commodities compare as people suffer increasingly restrictive migration policies? The series is a reflection on consumption while examining how objects translate culture, and the limitations of understanding through commerce, trade and mass-produced goods.

Installation photos by Yuula Benivolski.
Division of Labour, Art Gallery of Burlington, 2020.

This project was made possible with the support of the Ontario Arts Council.