The Rainroom: Ode to the Truly Marvellous


I know it’s very much last year, but for a piece of experiential art designed primarily to confound all expectations, I am huge fan of The Rainroom, a Random International installation that ran first at The Barbican, from October 2012 through to the following March, and then later at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Simple and technical, and exactly what it says on the tin, The Rainroom consists of a room in which a 100 metre square block of rain falls continuously, and through which you must pass. Backlit by an enormous spot, it has the sound and presence of a tropical rainstorm, and reminds me of those night-time street scenes in films, where all you can hear and see is the unrelenting fall of bright water. Only this raining is taking place inside.

Which is disconcerting in itself. Water pouring from the ceiling runs contrary to our notion of shelter. It feels wrong. It offends. It challenges a logic hardly ever articulated.  Nature’s flipped a slippery switch. The outside is now inside, and we are uneasily curious. However, seeing is nothing against not feeling, because, as we quickly discover, once you’re in, you don’t get wet. Again: you don’t get wet.

I can’t tell you how surprising this is, whatever the mix of personal commonsense and prior knowledge. You’re not three. You know this is art. No one’s given you something for the rain – raincoat, umbrella, something to sign. You may even already know that a super kit (of cameras, three dimension sensors, a computerised grid of panels controlling nine ceiling based outlets) has designed for the water to not fall on you. And yet, whatever your reasonable reasoning, your body’s not listening. Being with water is older than art, its technologies, than the tools we use. We are prepared to get wet, and now, a half a minute and 500 litres of water later, we’re not. We are in a room filled with a rain not raining on us.

I love this. It’s amazing, a moment of magic, of wonderful illogic. It reduces us, strips us of time, of knowing what came and what shall come. For a tiny bit of our lives, we are becoming something else, something other than what we think we are. There is no cause to this. We are here, like children. We laugh. We play. And we create, for no other reason than to make. Marvellous – and I mean it, the word, completely.

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