Emotions run high in Rain Room work of art

Emotions run high in Rain Room work of art

THERE’S something immediately moving about first seeing the art installation Rain Room. Perhaps it’s the sheer scale of the work, consisting as it does of a 100sqm field of continuous rainfall. Yet there’s also something elemental in the presentation of the falling droplets of water backlit simply with a single floodlight.

The point of the immersive work is to observe human behaviour in our interaction with technology. Sensors are in play to make the millions of drops of water respond to the presence of those walking through them, stopping them from falling wherever movement is detected, and allowing participants to be fully immersed in the rain while being protected from it.

As humans, the thing we naturally do when we feel the first signs of rain - city folk, at any rate - is to pick up the pace, to run for cover.

Yet in the Rain Room, at any rate, that’s exactly what you shouldn’t do: in here, the faster you go, the wetter you get.

The installation's in-built sensors do a good job of stopping the water flow in a metre-wide radius around participants. But there’s no escaping the gravity of the rain that’s already falling in front them. You’ll also have to contend with those who are in there with you, too, with 18 people admitted at a time - nine amidst the rainfall, nine watching from the perimeter.

When I first entered Rain Room in the new Jackalope Pavilion at St Kilda, my gut reaction was one of awe. It evoked immediate emotion, inviting contemplation and a reflective attitude. Perhaps it was because I was having a one-on-one encounter with the space. Or maybe it’s simply because I love the sound of falling rain.

Regardless, I’m not alone in being captivated by the global phenomenon.

'Rain Room is a nice reminder that nature is ambivalent to our desires in many ways."

More than half a million people have visited the installation since it started popping up in contemporary galleries around the world in 2012. Today, it made its Southern Hemisphere debut when it opened to the public in Melbourne.

Produced by London-based contemporary art collective Random International, Rain Room is “a nice reminder that nature is ambivalent to our desires in many ways”, says Random International spokesperson Jennifer Barnes.

“The idea of Rain Room is to explore how human relationships - with each other and with nature - are increasingly mediated through technology,” Barnes says.

Rain Room evolved when artisans within Random International were trying to make a mark-making machine where water would mark a reactive surface and leave a message behind.

“They spent so much time thinking about the mechanism of rain falling that they thought 'What if we focus on that?’," she says.

Random International founders Hannes Koch and Florian Ortkrass both had a fascination with being trapped in - and protected from - a rainstorm. And Rain Room is the result. The aim is to get people to think about their relationship with technology.

"Rain Room is an artwork and an immersive experience, but it's also a machine," Barnes says. "And when a human walks into the machine, it creates an intuitive relationship where the water is turning off whenever the human is present."

So while it gives participants a sense of control, Rain Room is controlling the speed at which they walk. It's forcing them to make decisions about how they move through it. So control's going both ways.

Patrons react to it in a different way based on their experience.

“And that's the beauty of this," she says. "is when people get wet their automatic reaction is 'I want to go faster.' And yet, that's exactly what they shouldn't do.”

Jackalope’s general manager of sales and marketing, Josh Olgilvie, says Rain Room exemplifies how the Jackalope Hotel group uses art in a pivotal role in the guest experience.

“And each Jackalope property has a very specific narrative that all of the art and design elements tie into it,” Ogilvie says.

Jackalope founder Louis Li first experienced Rain Room in Los Angeles a couple of years ago when it was showing at LACMA and has been trying to bring it to Australia since then.

“He was looking for a monumental artwork to bring to Australia that would form the centrepiece of the second [Jackalope] hotel in Flinders Lane, scheduled to open in 2022,” Ogilvie says.

Li describes Rain Room is the group’s most ambitious curation to date.

“The work represents the spirit of our hotels – an interplay between imagination, mystery and science,” Li says.

Rain Room has previously exhibited at The Barbican, London (2012); the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2013); the YUZ Foundation, Shanghai (2015); the LACMA, Los Angeles (2017); and at the Sharjah Art Foundation (2017). In Australia, it’s being presented with the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI).

Rain Room is housed within the Jackalope Pavilion on the corner of Acland and Jackson Street, St Kilda. Tickets, which are sold in 20-minute blocks, can only be purchased online. They're on sale via jackalopehotels.com/art/rainroom. Due to rapid sales, the installation has announced a limited second release of tickets, to go on sale for Friday, August 16, at 10am.

Rain Room is open seven days a week, Sunday to Wednesday from 10am-6pm and Thursday to Saturday from 10am-9pm.