Rain Room at Barbican

Posted on December 7, 2012

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The Rain room

This article was originally written for MouthLondon magazine

It sounds like a hard sell: inviting Londoners out of the rain and into the… rain. But Rain Room is different. There’s no need to bring your brolly.

It’s a fairly straightforward concept (I’m assured). Tucked away at the end of a long curved corridor, a rather clever grid on the ceiling simultaneously detects movement below and releases a deluge of water, which slips through the gaps of another lattice on the floor. As you walk into it, the detectors sense you and the downpour ceases in front of you – walk forward and you’ll be surrounded on all sides by torrents.

Presumably so you don’t get wet – which might dampen the experience – the area the sensors leave around you is quite large. This frustrated me a little, as there’s an urge to reach out into the stream and feel it stop, which isn’t really possible. Also when there are a lot of people in it (Barbican does restrict numbers – be prepared to queue) you end up with more gaps than rain. Again, not so good.

…it’s pretty thrilling…

But it is fun. Catch the right moment, when there are just a couple of other visitors, when the low-angled lights are catching the droplets and the pound of heavy rain isn’t interrupted by children’s shrieks, and it’s pretty thrilling. The strap line is “experience what it’s like to control the rain”, and there is a sort of empowerment to it, but mostly it’s just wonderment. It’s magic.

This installation would be just at home in the Science Museum, in fact more so. Being in the Barbican means there is pressure to explain it in terms of ‘art’, leading to such enlightening phrases as “sculptural rigour”. It won’t trigger any deeply insightful thoughts, but still, pretty awesome.

Rain Room is in Barbican’s The Curve gallery until 3 March 2013

On four Sunday’s during the exhibition dancers will respond to Rain Room

Admission: free

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