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Taiwan Design Expo turns historic jail into 'hostel'

'Jail Hostel' tells local stories through art installation and videos

Exhibition "Jail Hostel" opens Friday (Dec. 24) with free entry. (Yu Hsin-hsien photo)

Exhibition "Jail Hostel" opens Friday (Dec. 24) with free entry. (Yu Hsin-hsien photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The 2021 Taiwan Design Expo will open in Chiayi City on Friday (Dec. 24).

Hosted by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Taiwan Design Research Institute, the 19th edition of the Taiwan Design Expo features 13 exhibitions across seven venues in the city. For the first time, Alishan Forest Railway trains will be used to carry passengers to and from the 10-day cultural event.

Taiwan Field School Executive Director Ye Zhe-yue (葉哲岳) and the director of design studio Concentric Design and Film, Chang Yi-tseng (張伊增), have turned the historic Chiayi Old Prison, into a colorful hostel complete with installation art.

Constructed in 1922 during the Japanese colonial era, the site was designated as a national historic monument and was originally to become a museum in 2014. However, due to a staff shortage and the need for restoration, the former prison has remained a tourist spot on an on-demand basis for years.

The team’s creative art installations, videos, and local stories light up the venue and dispel the dark prison atmosphere. Visitors can “check-in” to the exhibition at the counter in the warden’s office and even enter a former cell to experience captivity.

According to Ye, the curators had originally planned to make the prison into a theater but decided on a hostel vibe that resonates with the expo’s theme of “City as Home.” They purposely give visitors the impression that they can actually sleep over, but their main aim is to raise awareness of the preservation of the old building.

Ye said that prison can be a mental state as well as a physical space: “Whenever you try to lock yourself up and stay away from family and friends, you are a prisoner of your own mind.”

At the end of the narrow corridor, the “J Bar” awaits, featuring four special drinks made with local ingredients. Taking a sip, Ye encouraged visitors to follow the golden rule: “Do not be quiet.”

The Taiwan Design Expo will run through Jan. 2, and all its exhibitions are free to enter. For more information, visit the official website or Facebook page.

Taiwan Design Expo turns historic jail into 'hostel'
Check-in counter at "Jail Hostel" exhibition. (Concentric Design and Film photo)

Taiwan Design Expo turns historic jail into 'hostel'
Curators Chang Yi-tseng and Ye Zhe-yue say "cheers" to visitors at "Jail Hostel's" J Bar. (Taiwan News, Lyla Liu photo)

Taiwan Design Expo turns historic jail into 'hostel'
Inside the narrow wards are stories about successful Chiayi natives from various disciplines. (Concentric Design and Film photo)