You can rent all types of living accommodations on Airbnb: private rooms, shared apartments, floors in houses … and now, a cage. Courtesy of artist Miao Jiaxin.
Miao, who was born in Shanghai and lives in New York, is renting out a private jail cage in a studio on a roof deck in Bushwick for $1 a night. (How New York does that sound?) The metal-barred “dream cage,” as Miao calls it in his listing, contains a simple bed, toilet, sink, and clock. If you rent it for two nights (the minimum stay), you must follow a fairly strict set of rules: From 9pm to 9 am, you have the studio space to yourself and are not required to stay in the cage. But from 9am to noon, you must stay in the cage, during which time
you CANNOT access internet, NO electronic devices, books, radio, pens or craftwork. You CANNOT talk to anybody. You CANNOT do Yoga or any other exercises. You CANNOT sleep.
There are two cameras in the space that monitor your activities to make sure you don’t break the rules; there’s also a non-monitored bathroom outside the cage that you can use in your off time. Any violation of the rules results in the loss of your $100 deposit fee.
As an artist, Miao’s past performances have ranged from physical feats — traveling inside a suitcase that his mother dragged through the streets of Shanghai and acting as a human TV stand at an art fair — to conceptual statements, like paying people hourly minimum to act as a human clock. The cage rental fits in well with this type of work, although it’s a little tough to figure out what exactly he’s aiming for: Is this a quiet comment on mass imprisonment in the US, or on what we’ve come to deem acceptable living in a place like New York City? Is it a literalization of the technological “prison” that our society’s become? Is it any of those mixed with a tribute to fellow artist Tehching Hsieh, who once spent a year living in a cage under similar circumstances (no talking, reading, writing, radio, or television)?
Hsieh didn’t leave his cage (which did not have a toilet) for 365 days. In a review of the performance in the New York Times, Roberta Smith wrote:
What’s most tangible about the “Cage Piece” is the almost palpable immensity and emptiness of time, nothing but time, of life as the filling of time. Mr. Hsieh carved a notch for each day in the wall. (He didn’t consider it writing.) He said he spent the time staying alive and thinking about his art.
Miao’s Airbnb cage experiment is far more lax and lavish, but in the Airbnb listing he calls it “a psychological NYC experience,” and he does seem to be channeling Hsieh — attempting to push his guests towards a strangely intimate yet alienated relationship with time. In a world where people pay for “digital detox” retreats and prison tourism is a thing, that may not be such a crazy idea.
Update, 6/27, 3:00pm EDT: Miao’s listing has been removed from Airbnb, and the link now redirects to a general Brooklyn listings page. It’s unclear if the cage violates any of the site’s guidelines — which do state that “political, religious, or social commentary” is prohibited. Hyperallergic has reached out to both the company and the artist for comment and will update this space when we hear more.
Update, 6/27, 5:20pm EDT: After we notified the artist of the listing’s disappearance, he reposted it and wrote us via email: “I hope it’s just an accident. Airbnb has no reason to ban this listing. They should thank me that I make their world more interesting.” A few minutes later, the listing was once again removed. Miao says, “they just deleted the whole thing.”
Update, 6/28, 12:30pm EDT: The artist has heard from a representative at Airbnb, who stated over email that the site did remove the listing. An excerpt from that letter:
My name is [redacted] and I work with the Trust and Safety Team here at Airbnb. I am writing to respectfully inform you that, at this time, any listings whose purpose is other than accommodation cannot be supported on our platform.
Consequently, I have moved forward with suspending your listing, “$1 USD / Jail’s Seeking Prisoners.” I do see that you are a quality host on our site, and we recognize that you may have listed this spage [sic] with the best of intentions. While we cannot support the leasing of such non-accommodations on our site, we do welcome you to list other, approved spaces. Please see this FAQ with any additional questions: https://www.airbnb.com/support/question/455.
In his written response, which he shared with Hyperallergic, Miao pointed out that
This is not Non-accommodation. This room has bed, heating, air conditioning, refrigerator, a private full bathroom with shower within the same space. It is a very comfortable accommodation which can be considered as a theme hotel.
“To make it more like an interesting game, I added game rules to increase interactive energy,” he added.
Update, 7/1, 12:08pm EDT: Despite his efforts, Miao writes that Airbnb has ceased communicating with him. He has now posted the listing on Facebook; interested guests can book by messaging him there.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.