In China alone, rapid industrialization has given rise to the greatest internal migration in history, from rural areas to urban centers: approximately 400 million people since 1979.
Children are the casualties of this condition. This is especially so in China because of the Family Registration or Hukou System of legal domicile. Each Chinese national is issued a family registration document that, in effect, binds that person to his or her birthplace.

This means that the children of internal migrants cannot accompany their parents to cities because, without a new local Hukou registration, the children cannot attend school in the new jurisdiction.

The domicile issue has given rise to the phenomenon of “left-behind children” whose numbers exceed sixty-two million in China.

Children of the Yi ethnic minority in Sichuan Province are born not far from centers of narcotics production over the border in Myanmar (Burma). Parents who succumb to the trade suffer overdose, hepatitis, and HIV infection. Despite strict anti-narcotics laws in China, this affliction leaves a disproportionate number of Yi children orphaned.

For children, especially children in China, mini-shops are the sites of beloved experiences of a childhood that often has few joyful memories to rival it. Most often is wondrous place between the worlds of school and home. I know this from my own experience when my parents left me to be raised by my grandparents in the countryside. The mini-shop is the first stop after school, a place we children could become masters of our own time, free of authority and obligation—a place where wonderful snacks, candy, or toys present themselves, often at prices that even poor children occasionally can afford, especially if they share.

When I first made Mini-shop as an art installation after having spent time together with the Yi orphans of Liangshan, it was also because it seemed clear to me that, for the museum-going public, the experience of visiting an exhibition in a space for viewing art entails many attributes that parallel the Chinese schoolchild’s visit to a mini-shop. The exhibition space is, for the adult, a place to experience the imagination and aesthetic pleasures, outside or between the more “real” sites—often fraught with obligation—of work and home.

As installation, the Mini-shop makes explicit this parallel in a way that would transforms the receiver into the child at the mini-shop, albeit with objects of desire the adult is more likely to be able to apprehend.

Since nothing is for sale, and neither can the practice of the Mini-shop be barter, a word whose very etymology roots it in deception for personal advantage, instead Mini-shop transfigures the site of commoditized monetary exchange transactions into an empathic mirror that mutually reflects two disparate geographies, cultures, ages, and desires.

Rather than a representation, Mini-shop aspires to serve as a communicative medium of this empathy through both literal and symbolic exchange rooted in love—which, after all, is what the children really most desire, and what they most need.

If one of the children’s works in Mini-Shop imparts enough feeling for you to want to have it in exchange for something of sentimental value to you, click on EXCHANGE.