Rain Room
At MoMa through July 28, Rain Room offers visitors the experience of controlling the rain. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Baking beneath the unblinking July sun, I waited for hours to enter Rain Room, a wildly popular environmental installation constructed in a lot adjacent to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It was created by Random International, an experimental London-based studio that seeks to explore interactions between the animate and inanimate. Rain Room is a field of falling water, a digitally controlled downpour that can sense the position of the people below it, selectively pausing its flow so they remain dry. It offers human control of artificial weather, a fulfillment of the impossible dream to pass through a rainstorm without getting wet.

This was the inverse of the cartoon image we frequently see of a gloomy character with his own personal raincloud following him around.

Experiencing this dream, if only for a few minutes, is not easy. When I arrived, there were scores of people ahead of me. Inside Rain Room the weather was under control, but outside in the long line it was oppressive, with no shade to be found. Helpful museum employees were passing out MoMA umbrellas to block the sun and make the wait a bit more tolerable. Ironically, we wouldn’t need the umbrellas once we were inside because the rain would never touch us.

The room itself is a minimal black space with a single bright theatrical light. It highlights the falling raindrops and provides dramatic lighting for the people within the field of rain. Overhead is a grid of panels from which the water emerges, creating a neatly rectilinear rainstorm. The theatrical lighting produces theatrical behavior. I saw two women doing ballet moves, one couple ballroom-dancing, and a man doing push-ups and handstands.

I was told to enter the rain field slowly so it would make a space for me, my own personal dry aura. I walked in as if I were parting a beaded curtain and then stood still, surrounded by rain. There was wonder to the experience, a dreamlike negating of normal phenomena. This was the inverse of the cartoon image we frequently see of a gloomy character with his own personal raincloud following him around. I could swing my arms about and not feel a single drop on them. I moved slowly through the environment like a planetary explorer, but I enjoyed the experience best when I was just standing still with the white noise of the water and a curtain of glittering drops surrounding me.

As human beings, we are inextricably tied to the natural environment and have our place within the order of life. But we still long for some bending of natural law, a little wink from nature to accommodate our individual desires.

As human beings, we are inextricably tied to the natural environment and have our place within the order of life. But we still long for some bending of natural law, a little wink from nature to accommodate our individual desires. Wanting to walk dry through the middle of a rainstorm is similar to the ancient human dream of flying, a wish to have temporary exemption from the normal ways of the world. We find joys in things like a rainbow appearing at an outdoor wedding, yet such naturally occurring pleasures are capricious and uncontrollable.

The rainstorm of Rain Room, however, is interactive and preternaturally obedient; artificial, but deeply satisfying. Experiencing this magic, if only for a little while, is enough to draw crowds willing to endure uncomfortable hours of waiting. As someone who has finally experienced Rain Room himself, I have to say it’s worth it. It made me consider the clashing interaction between nature and culture, as it uses technology to graft human intention and control onto a natural phenomenon.

Be sure to read H20mmmm: The Calming, Healing Power of Water, about water’s many therapeutic qualities.

Read about Duane Stapp.

4 Comments

  • Julia
    Posted July 19, 2013 3:52 pm 0Likes

    WOW, I so wish I could see this! I love water in all its forms (it has long been my beverage of choice) and find rain especially calming. Thanks for an interesting article!

  • Holly Scott
    Posted July 25, 2013 9:29 am 0Likes

    This place sounds so amazing, thanks for sharing your experience. Going to NYC in September, and now plan to block a whole day to see this.

    • Duane Stapp
      Posted July 30, 2013 12:48 pm 0Likes

      Glad you enjoyed the article! Unfortunately, the Rain Room closed on July 28th. Alternately, you could check out the James Turrell exhibition at the Guggenheim. You’ll be able to read about it on Rewire Me soon.

  • Arron
    Posted August 8, 2013 1:31 pm 0Likes

    So bummed I missed it!!!

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