New York

Amy Lien and Enzo Camacho, Orphaned (AMY-14-SC-081), 2018, ink on rice paper, wood, LEDs, clip-mounted light, 65 x 47 1/4 x 19 1/4". From the three-part suite Orphans, 2018.

Amy Lien and Enzo Camacho, Orphaned (AMY-14-SC-081), 2018, ink on rice paper, wood, LEDs, clip-mounted light, 65 x 47 1/4 x 19 1/4". From the three-part suite Orphans, 2018.

Enzo Camacho and Amy Lien

47 Canal

Amy Lien and Enzo Camacho, Orphaned (AMY-14-SC-081), 2018, ink on rice paper, wood, LEDs, clip-mounted light, 65 x 47 1/4 x 19 1/4". From the three-part suite Orphans, 2018.

“It’s hard to get kids to cooperate . . . ,” a woman laments in Enzo Camacho and Amy Lien’s short video Mother Holding Taobao Child (all works 2018). “My kid is only two and a half years old.” In a photography studio located on the outskirts of the Chinese city of Yiwu, she speaks between the sounds of shutter releases and camera flashes, as her child is photographed modeling for an e-commerce website. This eastern metropolis in Zheijiang Province is home to a vast emporium of more than seventy-five thousand shops and stalls selling cheaply produced goods, most of which can be had for about a dollar. Toys such as inflatable dolphins, sand buckets, and children’s security blankets are just some of the stock that line rows of shelves for local consumption or for export to more distant destinations, such as the Chinese-owned knickknack outlets that populate the neighborhood where 47 Canal has set up shop.

These small commodities, along with a bath mat, rice noodles, ponchos, and candied winter melon, were all bundled in radiant plastic globules that rested on the top bunk of a “mother-child bed” at the entrance to the exhibition. Mother-Child Bed (Space is the mother) is primarily a flat-pack bunk-bed frame (complete with an endearingly scaled staircase) that was designed to shelter families in cramped living spaces during China’s one-child policy. Typically made of pinewood and often decorated with cutout shapes of stars and hearts, the product was thought up by a rural villager after he visited an IKEA store in Shanghai. The success of the beds, which he produced locally and sold on the Chinese e-commerce site Taobao, fundamentally reconfigured his small village’s industries and gained notoriety abroad shortly before the family-planning policy ended in 2015. The artists ordered the version on display from Taobao; the transformative success of this now-massive online retail platform also spurred the national growth of e-commerce entrepreneurship and dramatically reshaped trade municipalities such as Yiwu, which just a year ago became the hub of the first freight-train route connecting China to London.

Three variants of these bunk-bed frames were situated on the other side of thin partitions dividing the gallery’s central space. Each was similarly constructed from pine but consisted solely of an isolated staircase. Called Orphans, these tender structures were illuminated from within by small LED lamps, and rice-paper paintings hung vertically between the steps’ horizontal planes and the structures’ outer edges. Most of the paintings, which derive from Chinese ink wash technique, possessed sectional composites that show a toddler posed listlessly with a Disney Cars backpack. Along the back of Orphaned (AMY-14-SC-034) a painted rendition of a ladder bore the slogan we’re GOING TO PUT OUR HEARTS AND SOUL N THIS. This ladder resembled an earlier, sculptural body of work by the artist Amy Yao, who is also represented by 47 Canal and whose practice and material approach, one could argue, assume generational influence over the younger Camacho and Lien. In comparison to the full bed frame across the gallery, this suite of works is orphaned, like its name. But as isolated vertical structures, the stairs also foreground a symbol associated with prosperity and social achievement.

The toddler, with his Cars backpack, appeared first in the duo’s short video, as he is one of the models at the photography studio. Unlike the serene sculptural compositions bestrewn throughout the gallery, this seven-and-a-half-minute film doused the space with the sounds of exasperated children, as their hapless parents beg for their compliance. At times, the camera cuts to one of the nearby commercial emporiums, fully stocked with toys and small goods in a dizzying range of lurid colors. The lens darts from one shiny object to another, as if shot through the eyes of a bumbling child immersed in the measureless offerings of consumer capitalism. Back in the photography studio, the children pose with these goods in hand, but the circumstances designate the articles not for play. Such is the intrigue of the footage: Bathed in the harsh studio light, these commodities appear disengaged from both their exchange value and their practical use. It’s a fleeting interval, one as brief as a hampered child’s temporary acquiescence.

Nicolas Linnert