Stay With Me: AIRBNB Pavilion at IDEAS CITY

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Saturday, May 30, 12-6pm EST 
Live-stream at rhizome.org 
Live-stream viewing session at Houston Street Center, 273 Bowery (Information and reservations: info@rhizome.org)

As part of the 2015 IDEAS CITY Festival, Rhizome and the New Museum invited AIRBNB Pavilion to organize a day-long salon addressing Airbnb and contemporary domesticity in New York. 

For his 1971 tape Chinatown Voyeur, the artist Gordon Matta-Clark recorded images of domestic spaces from the street, using the nascent medium of video. The spaces were partly hidden, shadowy and grainy, and lived in. Today, Airbnb has given the domestic sphere a new, public role in the city's economic and political life, making it newly visible: immaculate, unpopulated, and overlit. With this new visibility, the practice of interior decoration takes on a new urgency. As arguments rage about Airbnb's impact on city life, we invited the AIRBNB Pavilion to consider the questions: How might interior decoration intervene productively Airbnb's ongoing transformation of this city? And, to what end?

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Airbnb vs. Berlin: Was sagen die Daten?

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After a few short years coming to grips with the sharing economy—not exactly "embracing" it as Airbnb press releases may suggest, but not exactly coming down on it with a hammer—the city government of Berlin imposed an official ban on subletting unregistered vacation apartments to tourists in May 2014. Airbnb hosts were given until that August to register existing listings. An estimated two-thirds of them did not.

Last October, the New York State Attorney General launched his own broadside against the San Francisco-based startup, in the form of a statistical study intending to demonstrate how the business was driving up rents and putting hotel owners out of business (adding insult to injury by weakly parodying Airbnb's graphic design in the report). According to the evidence amassed, he pronounced the majority of listings illegal.

Yet as in Berlin, enforcement is where anti-"sharing" legislation hiccups. City bureaucracies are hardly as agile as tech companies, and the dance between the two is painfully awkward. Municipal governments and startups around the world are frantically conducting surveys like New York's in the hopes of legislatively anticipating the effects of Airbnbs and Ubers: the former are hustling to update existing legal systems in accordance with new technologies and the economic arteries they provide; the latter are hustling to get ahead of those laws before they are put into action.

With or without legislative effect, the surveys are there, and they are full of disturbing information. From reading the most recent detailed report on Airbnb in Berlin, where I live, I learned, among other close-to-home tidbits, that the number of probably-now-illegal Airbnb sublets in my neighborhood, Reuterkiez, tops any other neighborhood per capita in Berlin, and therefore in Germany. Never mind what this says about my cultural capital (probably negative; you never want to be at the center of the swarm), but the effects on the amount of actual capital circulating on my block are enough to to give one pause.

The report where I found this info is by a group of students in the design department at Fachhochschule Potsdam, titled "Airbnb vs. Berlin—Was sagen die Daten?" ("What does the data say?"). For practice in making infographics, they took a small data sample (January 11—February 2, 2015) from Airbnb's front end and splayed it out in charts and maps across an interactive website, with accent colors only a shade away from Airbnb's trademark salmon pink (Airbnb: #FF5A5F; Berlin: #FF656A). 

Yes, this is a student project, and no, it is not comprehensive. But for those with a vested interest (me), the basic pink data points are useful for tentatively trying to grasp the general situation, and perhaps more useful in demonstrating how hard it is to pinpoint any actual causality between Airbnb itself—whose influence until now I have mostly felt rather than sought to quantify—and any particular façet of the (worsening) urban situation.

Map from www.airbnbvsberlin.de showing streets with high density of Airbnb rentals.

Statistics are already in place to demonstrate that rents are sliding uphill, hotel profits are (likely) going down, longtime residents are being edged out of the city center, and the sorry state government is missing out on a potential bounty of property taxes. Here are three bullets on Airbnb, sourced and translated from airbnbvsberlin.de, to correlate with the above facts as you see fit:

  • Any way you slice the data, Berlin is the "undisputed Airbnb stronghold" of Germany. 11,701 Berlin listings were active during the span of the study, compared with runner-up Munich at 4233. The available Berlin apartments amounted to approximately .4% of available domiciles in the city. These included a total of 34,418 sublettable beds.
  • "Legitimate" rents are rising rather in Berlin quickly in comparison with other cities in Germany, and the supply of long-term rental housing is going down for those who want live in the city longer than the "Wochenend-Easy-Jet-Partyvolk" (after whom one Airbnb listing is titled). The average Airbnb listing costs 55 Euros a night; renting a one-bedroom place for a month costs on average 650 Euros a month. Why rent monthly if you could net the same in 11 nights? (See these maps comparing the availability of vacation to long-term rentals for further adorable visualization.)
  • At the crux of the New York study and others has been the issue of whether DIY hoteliers are really amassing real estate across cities and running fully fledged businesses serviced by Airbnb, rather than operating as "hosts" out of their private homes. Thus a particularly contentious statistic is the number of hosts with multiple listings to their names. The numbers in Berlin, according to this source, are comparable to those according to the NY attorney general: 1.3 listings per host compared to 1.2. This is a small percentage of hosts overall, but that small sector is nonetheless netting a large profit.

If you are contemplating these facts and feeling neither perplexed nor enlightened, you are not alone. As Mark Gimeon wrote in Bloomberg of the NY Airbnb study, "If you are looking—as New York State regulators seem to be—for evidence that Airbnb involves much bigger operations than a few students renting out their couches, it's in the[ir] report. On the other hand, if you prefer to see evidence that the hosts on Airbnb are still largely mom-and-pop, or mom-and-mom, or starving twentysomething, operators …you'll find that, too." It's both and neither economics and sharing.

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Catfish Homes: Airbnb and the domestic interior photograph

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Marlie Mul, Dirty Soap Dish (Did you mean: naughty soap dish), 2014, courtesy of the artist.

(Welcome) Home: that daily practiced space and mental image which has accompanied mankind through centuries. Ever our shelter from the rain as much as the fortress of our dwelling selfs. The abode of our constructed identities and repository of our material treasures. Home is where the day begins, home is where it ends. Enduring with the clichés, home is where we belong; where we are safe from the daily struggles of the outside world. Home is among those universally accepted places which we refer to without specifying a geographical location or a defining activity. Where are you?—I'm home. It is as simple as it spells...

Like many other social constructs which have endured through centuries, though, the home is a concept in constant change: It varies in space and time according to personal experiences, to social models, to the political forces by which it is governed. And even more so, it varies in relation to the technologies in which it is enmeshed. At present, the internet falls into that long strand of innovations which, in one way or another, leave their mark on domesticity. Whether in its fostering of global mobility or in how it has blurred boundaries between public and private, the internet is progressively diluting those typically bourgeouis traits which have sedimented over the last few centuries and which still inform our current, westernized, understanding of the home as a stable entity.

Though much is being said about the effect of the internet on daily lives, a less visible topic is how the home appears on the WWW, and how this, in turn, shapes domestic architecture. The web has, in fact, allowed for new representations of the home to proliferate, and the effects of this effusion on the spaces we inhabit are far from obvious. If, on the one hand, the home's fetishized representations in commercial online practices such as real estate websites and IKEA catalogues are now deeply ingrained cultural conventions, an entirely different "way of seeing" the home is discreetly emerging in the less polished repertoire of amateur photography.

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Solidarity after "Sharing:" Notes on Internet Subjects #1

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Enormous amounts of capital have been amassed of late under the banner of the so-called "sharing" economy, characterized by companies such as Uber and Airbnb that have garnered multi-billion dollar valuations for creating platforms in which individuals offer their services and property for rent.

Such platforms have advanced a narrative in the media that their services are emancipatory and disruptive of old-fashioned, inefficient industries, going so far as to promise "revolution" amid broken systems. But what, exactly, is being brought into existence by this revolution? And who is it for?

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Internet Subjects: #Uberwar and the "Sharing" Economy

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A scene from today's #uberwar protest in London.
 
Thursday, June 19
7pm EST, at the New Museum 
and livestreamed on rhizome.org
Free / RSVP
#internetsubjects
 
Internet Subjects is a new series of flash panel conversations. Each takes a topic chosen just a week in advance in order to discuss emerging internet subjects and subjectivities in an engaging public forum. 
 

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Art, Bed and Breakfast: The AIRBNB Pavilion

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Left to right: Bava and Sons, Coast.biz; Jon Rafman, Juan Gris Dream House; Charles Broskoski, Untitled (Iris); David Kohn architects, Carrer Avinyo; Etienne Descloux, Visitez ma tente. Photograph by Noah Rabinowitz.

If Google had a pavilion at the Venice Biennale, who would they exhibit? How would their installation compete against the Artsy auction exhibition? Would a Young Incorporated Artist feel more comfortable representing Tumblr or the USA?

Biennales have long been recognised as vehicles of internationalization and globalization in the worlds of art and architecture. Founded in 1895, with its younger sibling the Architecture Biennale following in 1980, the Venice Biennale is perhaps the most well known of its ilk. Although structured around a thematic exhibition in the imperially-named Arsenale, a significant attraction is inevitably the soft state play that occurs between the national pavilions. But in a world where the certitude of nation states is increasingly coming up against a new dominance of multi-national business, it is perhaps surprising that outright corporate pavilions aren't more of a Biennale mainstay, beyond the aggressive sponsor interests that keep national pavilions afloat.

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