A few weeks ago, New York-based performance artist Miao Jiaxin had posted a listing on Airbnb seeking guests to spend the night in a cage in his Bushwick studio for $1 a day. Shortly afterwards, Jiaxin’s listing was taken off Airbnb, but the project lives on. To participate, book your stay and promise that from the hours of 9am to 12pm you would sit in the cage, and for three hours you will commit to doing nothing, which might be harder for people than you’d think — no internet, no books, no talking, no sleeping, no yoga — or risk losing your $100 per day deposit. You will also be live-streamed online. ANIMAL talked to Miao Jiaxin about the intentions of the project and his feelings about his break with Airbnb.
How long have you been working on creating this piece?
I always wanted to express such repressed freedom as I always live in the crowed and systemized city. I probably always had this cage in my mind until it hit me again the other day. I could visualize this small cage situated in my already very small studio. I made the decision to do it. My contractor took care of the installation part. I walked on the streets, and kept thinking of game rules.
How long have you lived in New York? Is this work inspired by housing in New York City in any way?
I immigrated from Shanghai to New York eight years ago. I have shared apartments in Queens and Brooklyn. I’m not trying to directly talk about the housing situation in NYC. It’s just one uncomfortable thing. The intangible cage is in your head, gifted by our complicated reality. However, life experience more or less affects the way I create my work.
How does the exclusion from Airbnb impact the project? What did they tell you about why you weren’t allowed to use their service? What are your plans for continuing the project now?
Airbnb didn’t provide sufficient reasons to exclude the cage. They only said this was a non-accommodation, which was not true. It’s sad that I couldn’t work with Airbnb, which is a perfect platform for economy and culture sharing worldwide. However, as a piece of participatory conceptual art, the cage project constantly grows itself. The refusal from Airbnb has accidentally become a new layer of this piece. It helps people to think more about the fine line in between life and art, practical business and conceptual project, further more we might think about social restriction and individual freedom under the democracy and capitalism system. There are different cages on either side. My current plan is to have the project run on my studio Facebook page, and still call it a Former Airbnb listing. The only difference is that I wanted to have real travelers from Airbnb, but now I have people only that want the cage experience though they purchase a flight ticket and will come all the way from a different state/country. As I said the project develops itself, and I am just a cage manager now, I am happy to join the audience and see what happens next.
What do you think about the “sharing economy” promised by websites like Airbnb?
I truly like this idea. Airbnb is a piece of social art that changed the way people live and travel. People can manage their own economy by staying away from hotels and corporations. The only thing I don’t like to see is how this former commercialism keep affecting people’s lives, how hosts make their photos like a dream houses and how travelers seek to live in such dream houses. I want to disillusion this urban dream and introduce some psychological reality.
What has your personal experience with Airbnb been? Have you used Airbnb to make money before this?
I try my best only stay with home share when I travel. I have been an Airbnb host for more than a year. It brings me income as well as inspiration.
How long are you planning to run this project?
This project is planned to be a year. At the same time I’m trying to see how it develops itself and ends itself.
Were you inspired by Tehching Hsieh‘s 1978 Cage Piece when you created your cage?
Yes. Tehching Hsieh’s Cage Piece would always be there as an art reference. His cage talks about one’s time and life, and passing time to achieve the meaning of life, while my cage maybe wants to be socially engaged, seeking an alternative freedom within a confined space where we are obliged to abandon our daily commitments.