Water, water everywhere… (The Rain Room at The Barbican)

Water, water everywhere… but not a drop of it falls on you in the Rain Room. The latest show at the Curve space in the Barbican Centre, has been causing long queues since its opening in October. Kate West went to find out if it is worth the wait.

I’ve long been a fan of the Curve Art series. Since its launch in 2006 I’ve seen things that I loved – roller coasting bowling balls (Jeppe Hein 2007) and guitar-playing finches (Céleste Boursier-Mougenot 2010), things that I thought I would hate but ended up loving – numerous piles of someone’s mother’s hoarded possessions (Song Dong 2012), things that took me out of my comfort zone and left me a bit baffled – futuristic town planning for the Amazonian rainforest (Marjetica Potrč 2007), does anyone else remember that one? And things that I just can’t get out of my head years later – thank you Richard Wilson and that wonderful spinning caravan of 2006. Curve Art is always exciting and often challenging but Rain Room, the latest in the series of these site-specific commissions, may be my favourite to date… although those finches will take some beating.

I know that the Chelsea-based artists Random International are associated with artworks that involve elements of audience interaction and I had heard that Rain Room is an installation that has the visitors controlling the rain, but despite that I did not know what to expect from this gallery experience. However the length of the queue outside the doors told me the word was out that this was something apparently worth waiting for hours to see.

Entering the gallery space, which is long, narrow and as curved as the name suggests, the visitor is plunged into darkness with a bright light in the distance ahead, shadows of human figures on the wall and the sound of heavy rain falling.

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Following the curved space around with the sound of the rain getting louder, the installation is revealed. A 100 square metre field of falling raindrops, with some people standing around the edge watching a few fellow visitors who look to be bravely/foolishly standing in the rainfall.

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But all is not quite as it seems in the Rain Room. It doesn’t take long to realize that those people standing in the rain are staying completely, and mysteriously, dry. It takes a leap of faith to walk into the heavy rain, and it really is quite a downpour, to try it for yourself. Even when you know, or guess, that this is working by sensors and clever technology, the experience is still extraordinary. It is, at once, both exhilarating and disconcerting to see and hear the rain all around you and yet remain dry as you walk through it.

 

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On my visit I saw people reacting in so many different ways, some tentative, some rushing in, others twirling around with arms outstretched, most getting a photo on their phone and a few just standing, palms turned up in wonder. After the very wet summer we have had, it is no surprise that we are most charmed by the rain when we can control it.

Rain Room is a great show, beautiful and surprising in equal parts. And best of all, free.

 

Notes and Warnings

Due to its popularity be prepared to wait a while for entry to this show. As this magazine goes to press the wait is 2 hours on a weekday and 3 hours at the weekend but check the Barbican Centre’s website for updates on queuing times. Be sure to get there well before closing time as you may not be allowed to join the queue if there are too many visitors already waiting. Only a few people are allowed in at any one time and once they are admitted it seems like they are having too good a time to be in any hurry to exit the gallery. It is worth the wait.

You may come out very slightly damper than when you went in (the technology works less well at the very edges of the field of rain), so don’t wear something that would be damaged by a few drops of water. Flat shoes are recommended.

 

Open until 3rd March 2013

Rain Room

Random International

The Curve

Barbican Centre

London EC2

www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery/

Opening times: Daily 11am – 8pm and every Thursday LATE until 10pm

Admission: FREE

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