rAndom International: Rain Room
Barbican Curve Gallery
April 10, 2012 - March 2, 2013
The Barbican website invites visitors to "experience what it feels like to control the rain"--this invitation of sorts is the opening gambit for rAndom International's Rain Room, an avant garde investigation into technology, suspense, design, and trust. The website for rAndom International is terrifyingly sleek and assured, black and white profile photographs demonstrate a fierce artist collective stemming from the not-too-tawdry surrounds of the RCA. Creators of the pixelroller in 2005--a device enabling the user to create large scale technological masterpieces from their very hands--rAndom International stake out the oft-unmentioned universe of digital art.
As luck would have it, I attended on a uncannily freakish day which saw crowds being pushed through the queue in under 40 minutes, this being said, my first attempt to see Rain Room was an arduous three hour wait resulting in being turned away. When juxtaposed against the work of Rain Room--a fierce and efficient machine testing human barriers and endurance--this terribly archaic format of crowd control--outmoded and inefficient, compartmental and dysfunctional--only acts to create more mystery and suspense for what we are about to experience. The absurdist build of what you are met with inside the curve must be one of the gallery's biggest projects to date. It's a ferociously controlled and quantified field of torrential down pour; this is given away in the title, accompanying video on the Barbican website, and indeed in all the photographic evidence, for this work's subtlety has clearly been kicked to the curb.
rAndom International plays a fine line between design, architecture, and art practice as well as choreography and dance, this work isn't just about being witness to the rain, it's about the very act of participation. The structure of the dance taken on by the viewer is one which is slow and un-gamely, we are fast aware of the sensitivity of the project and the shear physicality of walking through rain. The idea itself though works on a linear scale which would easily have seen it placed within a science / design museum or art gallery. As a work of art it questions an underlining feature of trust which the viewer must undertake if they are to be fully immersed within the work: questioning the role of ourselves to the piece and to one another as we must work together if we are to secure a right of passage amongst the drops in order to avoid being completely drenched.
The irony of Rain Room is that it conducts the simplest of investigations by the most impressive of means. The choreography is a romantic tale of human control and decision making, the fierce path is that the more we step into the onslaught of rain, the more we allow ourselves to trust the thick and fast relationship we are building with a future embedded in technology. There's something so beautiful in this realization, yet mythically unyielding, that this future is something new and unchartered though we've been treading these grounds for centuries of human civilization.
Rain Room enables the viewer to encounter the most fun fair of human obsessions: power over the uncontrollable, the elements, the weather. This in itself is a dark joke played out by rAndom International. As a paradigm this is nothing new, the shift which rAndom International conceptualizes the boundary between ancient ritualization and new technological advances reflects an almost-biblical Hollywood trope or obsession with the strength of human spirituality and power. It is this which marks us out as human above all else, as a species obsessed with our own importance and relevance in the storm of the earths crust.
Rain Room manages to hint at these idioms but it doesn't quite reach the climatic energy afforded such a dynamic and breath taking exhibition. The visitor is told to "walk slowly," and as each loose drop lands on your head the visitor is fast reminded of the presentness of this timely work, it is the slow pace at which the exhibition moves as you glide around the room which reminds the viewer of the actuality of the true pace of technological advancement. Questioning both the need to progress against the unyielding fear of advancement. There's something optimistic about how far we have come in order to produce such works as this, but the un-gamely act of it's performance is a stunted reminder of the very fact of our own grounding. We can't feed the millions, we can't make wine from water, gold from lead, but for 10 minutes you can feel what it might be like to control the weather, inside an art gallery.
Sophie Risner is a freelance art writer and critic living in London. "I am less art critic and more art writer - I find the idea of critiquing art through writing difficult in a purely formalist fashion. I often lean towards the difficulty of language as a way into the inherent difficulty of art. Embracing all aspects which observe and inspire artist practice as a way to create a more fruitful and less didactic approach."view all articles from this author