When it took up residence at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2013, the queues stretched out for miles. Now, Random International’s breath-taking Rain Room installation continues to sell-out daily since its Southern Hemisphere debut last week at Jackalope Pavilion in St Kilda.
A complex combination of advanced software, valves, pressure regulators and 2500 litres of self-cleaning recycled water are used to create this immersive experience – but here’s where it gets crazy. Thanks to advanced motion sensor software and 3D tracking cameras, visitors will walk through the torrential downpour and remain dry.
Like a spotlight follows a performer, participants can walk slowly through the exhibition and appreciate the beauty of rain without the cold and wet that accompanies the deluge. It’s as if the rain clouds have parted right where you’re standing; as if you have caused the sun to shine overhead by your very existence.
“If you run around you’ll get wet because while the sensor picks up the movement, gravity limits the speed of the drops falling from the ceiling,” explained Koch. When the installation first launched at London’s Barbican Centre in 2012, the artists said they hoped the experience would give people a sense of “playful empowerment” through the perception of controlling the rain like Moses parting the seas.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many have said that the experience of Rain Room is as close as we can come to being God. That in mind, it’s no wonder the exhibition has turned more than a few heads. Yet, according to its creators, it’s just the opposite.
‘You experience how it feels to be controlled by the weather,’ explains co-founder Hannes Koch, ‘because if you walk a little too fast you get soaked. You can’t outpace gravity, you can’t outperform it. You experience a loss of control; you experience a deliverance on technology. If there is a power cut you get soaked; if the sensor doesn’t detect you, you get wet.’
Based in London, Random International is a collaborative studio for experimental practice. Its work, which includes sculpture, performance art and large-scale, architectural installations, explores the human condition in an increasingly technology-driven society.
Audience participation is what brings its work to life: in the case of Rain Room, the behaviours, instincts and perceptions of participants are the supporting cast to the technically impressive installation that has already sold 20,000 tickets since its launch in Melbourne.
But beyond the enjoyment that participants gain from the 3D exhibition, the creators have described Rain Room as “a social experiment” which “extracts behavioural experiences”. Already, the installation has evoked a diverse range of emotional responses that have varied based on the climate of each location it has featured. For In London, for instance, visitors all-too-familiar with the perils of the British Summer Time embraced the large-scale installation as a welcome break from the feeling of being drenched to the bone after a quick trip to the shops.
For Southern Californians, Rain Room arrived during the worst drought in the history of the state. The launch of the installation in L.A was a physical reminder of what is missing in the parched West where “getting caught in the rain” is a fate that residents fantasise about.
Whereas inhabitants of countries prone to regular rainfall take a single droplet of water as a cue to run for cover to avoid getting wet, Southern Californians experiencing extreme drought would literally be Singin’ In the Rain in the unlikely event of a light sprinkle.
In an article published in the New York Times promoting Rain Room’s Californian debut, an attendee of the installation lamented that the only rain they got was indoors, and it didn’t even touch them – referring to the motion sensor capabilities built in to the exhibit. “I wouldn’t have minded being hit by some of it,” he was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, the launch of Rain Room in Shanghai’s Yuz Museum arrived amidst reports of widespread water pollution. In a densely populated city coated by a thick sheet of heavy smog, the installation served as a strong environmental warning to attendees. Beyond the metaphysical, Rain Room was a reminder of the immeasurable value of this precious resource that we are quick to take for granted.
‘Rain Room is not a funhouse,’ explains MoMA PS1 and chief curator-at-large Klaus Biesenbach. ‘It is a paradigm for our technology and how fragile we are in this moment of progress. We think we can control it [the weather, the future, the elements] but we cannot.’
Presented in association with the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Rain Room will be in the Jackalope Pavilion on the corner of Acland and Jackson streets in St Kilda. Tickets for the installation can be purchased via https://www.jackalopehotels.com/art/rainroom and are sold in 20-minute time blocks that can only be purchased online.