Barbican Gallery: Rain Room Review

Art and technology have been toying with the boundaries between each other for some time now – photography developments have pushed video and imaging further, whilst installations take audiences out of the confines of a gallery and into a wider, psychological world. Random International’s Rain Room at the Barbican takes one of the most commonplace daily experiences of our lives and transforms it into something serene, introspective and quietly overpowering.

The hundred-metre square cube of rain is set at the end of a dark corridor, in the Barbican’s Curve gallery. Lit by powerful backlights, the steady beat of the sound of rain is both disconcerting and tempting – with a soothing, hypnotic patter against ground. Rain Room is a truly immersive experience – as you step into the veils of rain, each strand of water pulls away from your body, leaving you utterly dry while you remain cloaked from all sides. Amid the stormy darkness, you can continue to walk through the space and feel water sweep back from you in a surreal inversion of an invisibility cloak. In a world shaped by CGI and manipulation from all sides, it’s tempting to dismiss it all as an elaborate illusion, but the brush of occasional stray drops against your cheek occasionally keep reality close at hand.

Rain Room is not Random’s first audience-participation installation. Audience, in 2008, put the visitor in the spotlight – as mirrors shifted around you, revealing your own image to yourself. Rain Room is the culmination of extensive technological research into 3D mapping and print-output technology – used to track the movement of audience members within the installation to control and manipulate each path of water. A total of 2,500 litres of water pass through before being collected, treated and recycled.

Technology might be behind this, but what truly brings the installation to life, like all of Random’s projects, are the people who enter the space. The small space prevents over-crowding, fitting in around 10 people at a time. Low light and the steady rhythm around you creates a pulsing, hypnotic space – that gives you a strange feeling of control over an element that can normally, quite literally overwhelm you. The slow speed of movement that the tracking system imposes on you forces a introspective pace, letting you truly take in the multi-sensory experience. It’s visceral, private and strangely emotional – as you watch each other feeling superhuman, if only for a moment.