The queue itself is a stormfest: To get inside the Rain Room at the Barbican, you’ve got to be ready to waste at least two hours of your precious time queuing up (and just imagine how the Barbican would be packed during the weekends with a drench-hungry crowd). Thank God I chose to come on a weekday – the queue was considerably long but manageable and I was entertained by listening to the conversations of young wannabe artists who all came for the promise of a drizzle.
I have asked myself why I was even interested to come here in the first place. I’ve grown up and lived in a place where tropical storms and torrential rain are as frequent as having your breakfast. Maybe I do miss it – the drama that a real rain brings (trapped indoors, without any electricity – I think one can truly be your most creative during stormy weather. You can pen a hundred love songs from your hundred heartbreaks or write a cheesy soap opera with you as the damsel in distress.) But yes, that kind of rain – the type that can wreak havoc in land and topple down dingy houses unfortunately – can (sometimes) inspire you and be a great companion for melancholic days. (Of course if it’s devastating like Hurricane Sandy, it’s another matter, but forgive me for romanticising rain in this post).
Here at the Barbican, I know I’d be seeing simulated rain and I wonder what kind of emotions I can feel coming face to face up-close and personal with an inspiration-ally. Entering the long corridor of the Curve room is in itself an experience as you already hear the sound of heavy rain smashing against the pavement. It’s almost too cinematic – at the end of the corridor before you turn unto the curve, shadows of the onlookers are projected at a white wall while your own footsteps get diluted in the smell of the looming downpour.
Young experimental practice called Random international really know how to up the game of interaction – although they have been distancing themselves from defining their practice as such and have aligned themselves more in creating architectural settings. Whatever it is, this 3d installation where you could control torrential rain without getting wet is genius – and I feel like somehow we’ve tricked nature for once this time. With only eight people allowed to interact with the rain, there’s a guaranteed intimacy with this man-made natural concoction of a downpour.
Staged in a rectangular platform, this hundred square metre field of falling water is made more dramatic by being backlit by a glaring spotlight. People who had been able to jump right in the rain walk about with a glassy and inspired look about them. They don’t get wet as you already know – through the use of sensors, the rain responds to their movement and presence. What happens next is a sight to behold – the rain envelops them forming a quasi-silhouette while trickling down in other parts of the platform. The dry rain feels real that one man opened his umbrella and posed for a snapshot for his girlfriend.
The rain room is a a marriage of art, science and technology. When it was my turn to go in the rain, I felt an emotional kind of zen-peace, the kind of feeling that you get when are in touch with nature. Being surrounded by rain that close with all the symphony of falling water beneath your feet – is a privilege – it almost feels like a miracle.
- The Guardian: Random international installs torrential rain in Barbican gallery
- Londonist: Rain Room @Curve in Barbican
- The Verge: Artists create miracle ‘rain room’ keeping you dry in the middle of a shower
- Daily Mail: Contemporary studio installs ‘rain room’ to let visitors experience realistic wet weather in autumnal London
- Architizer: Rain Room lets visitors stay dry while passing through a downpour
- BBC News: Barbican’s Rain Room where visitors stay dry
- BBC: Staying dry in a room full of rain
- Telegraph: Random International, Rain Room, Curve, Barbican