Exhibition gives visitors power to control the rain

By Sabrina Sweeney
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

  • Published
Rain Room exhibition
Image caption,
The Rain Room has been described as a "cocooning experience" by its creators.

Most of us have been caught in a torrential downpour and wished we could make it stop, but how would it feel to have the power to control the weather?

Rain Room, a new 3D exhibition at London's Barbican Centre marries art, science and technology to do just that.

Despite standing in a space filled with drops of falling water, visitors remain dry, as the water halts above them.

Its creators have described it as "a social experiment" which "extracts behavioural experiences".

"We wanted to give people the cocooning experience of being immersed in a 3D rain room and watch their reaction," Hannes Koch told the BBC.

Koch met Florian Ortkrass and Briton Stuart Wood in 2005 while studying at the Royal College of Art in London and together they formed Random International.

As well as audience participation, science and technology play a big part in bringing their experimental exhibition to life.

Gravity effect

With several 3D sensory cameras fixed to the ceiling of the Rain Room, every person who walks into the 100 square metre space is recognised.

Image caption,
Florian Ortkrass, Stuart Wood and Hannes Koch met at London's Royal College of Art.

As they move around "slowly", the rain stops overhead.

"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.

The artists said he and collaborators hoped the experience would give people a sense of "playful empowerment".

"By your sheer presence you can control the rain."

The installation has been designed to create an intimate atmosphere of contemplation.

"There's no distractive sound, you are very close [to the rain] and it is beautiful as it becomes hypnotic and the sound of the rain is extremely calming.

"Behavioural experiences"

"It is very different to having an umbrella as you don't have the sound of the rain battering on the umbrella," said Koch."

This is not Random International's first experiment with visitor participation.

Its 2008 exhibition, Audience, used motorised mirrors to respond to the individual facing them with each viewer becoming the subject of the exhibition.

"It has been interesting and a lot of fun for us to watch people, as this kind of installation piece extracts behavioural experiences," said Koch.

"In the Rain Room, shy people may wait to see others' reaction and may act quite cautiously, while more excitable visitors will just rush in."

If the Rain Room is filled with participants, the "collective power of the crowd stops the rain", which Koch admits may limit the experience.

"We have recommended to our hosts that a little crowd control may be required to give people the full experience."

Rain Room at The Curve runs until March next year.

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