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.
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.
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.