As you approach the end of the dark, sweeping corridor that is the Barbican’s Curve space, you are greeted by a huge, one hundred square metre mass of falling water. Backlit by glaring spotlights, there is a sense of anticipation lingering in the damp air, as you’re enveloped by the noise of the thundering deluge.
Stepping on to the plinth, with the driving rain beating down from above, you anticipate being soaked within seconds. You take a step forward and prepare yourself for that all too familiar sensation of cold rain engulfing you. Your mind is racing with images of an uncomfortable and soaked tube ride home. Yet a peculiar thing happens: you don’t get wet. Not in the slightest. Not so much as a drop touches you. All around you, the water is seemingly repelled away, leaving an oddly human-shaped hole in the heart of the storm.
Rain Room is the latest piece from experimental collective Random International, founded in 2005 by Royal College of Art design graduates Florian Ortkrass, Sam Wood and Hannes Koch. Born out of an idea to create a ‘long-distance inkjet printer’, the group soon became more concerned with how people would actually interact with the piece. This is a theme that runs through all of their work, exploring the relationship between people and new technologies. Past works have often explored the concept of audience participation, most notably Audience (2008). This was essentially an eerie walkway of motorised mirrors that turned to follow a person walking between them. The mirrors seemingly interacted differently with each individual, even ignoring you completely if they didn’t find you ‘interesting enough’.
But you’re actually wondering how the Rain Room works aren’t you? Well the installation is essentially a series of 3D cameras that map the location of bodies on the plinth. These cameras turn you into a shape on a grid of 25cm x 25cm panels. Each panel controls nine outlet valves, and depending on which panel you’re standing on, the corresponding water valves are instantly turned off. So wherever the shape moves on the grid, the software knows to instantly switch off the right valves. This in turn stops a total of 2,500 litres of water – falling at a rate of 1,000 litres per minute – from completely drenching you.
Since opening on 4th October Rain Room has been incredibly popular. As a result the waiting times to get in to the installation are currently between 2 and 3 hours, and it is recommended that you arrive as early in the day as possible. The installation is arguably worth the wait though. In essence Rain Room makes you feel like you’ve woken up with a brand new superpower, giving you control over one of nature’s most powerful and captivating elements.Rain Room: Open daily between 11am – 8pm (last admission to the queue is 2 hours before closing), until 3rd March 2013.