Taobao is China’s largest online shopping site. Similar to eBay, Taobao facilitates consumer-to-consumer retail, and is known for listing practically everything there is to buy. Launched just 12 years ago, this gi¬gantic product search engine and database has had a tremendous impact on Chinese consumers’ buying habits and lifestyles. Netizens like to call it the “Omnipotent Taobao.” The majority of Taobao sellers are individual entrepreneurs and small businesses. This entrepreneurship is reflected in Taobao’s visual media, be it the cheap and tacky graphics in product listings or low-res cellphone photos taken by sellers in their homes or factories. Shanghai-based artist Kim Laughton’s project Taobao Media is an ongoing archive of odd and surreal product images he finds on the website. Through these decontextualized visual puzzles, a narrative of contemporary China’s manufacturing economy and consumer culture comes into view.
Text by Lai Fei