It seems only fitting that the largest iteration of Random International's Rain Room be created for the world's biggest economy – recent market tribulations notwithstanding. This weekend saw the unveiling of the new gem in Indonesian-Chinese billionaire collector Budi Tek’s crown: the Rain Room at Shanghai’s Yuz Museum.
Created by Random International, a London-based art collective founded by Wallpaper* Design Award winners Hannes Koch, Stuart Wood and Florian Ortkrass, the piece lives up to the group's reputation for creating high-tech, immersive installations that explore the connection between behaviour, reaction and intuition in relation to the human form and natural phenomena. Many have said that the experience of the Rain Room – which previously took London and New York by storm, in 2012 and 2013 respectively – is as close as we can come to being God; granting mere mortals the power to stop the flow of the elements. In truth, it is rather the opposite.
‘You experience how it feels to be controlled by the weather,’ explains Koch, ‘because if you walk a little too fast you get soaked. You can’t outpace gravity, you can’t out perform it. You experience a loss of control; you experience a deliverance on technology. If there is a power cut you get soaked; if the sensor doesn’t detect you, you get wet.’
Metaphysical interpretations aside, the Rain Room has taken on a strong environmental message by virtue of of its MoMA appearance too; it's a connection made all the more poignant in Shanghai, one of the most polluted cities in the world with a heavy fog-like smog hanging permanently in its atmosphere. ‘Rain Room is not a funhouse,’ explains MoMA PS1 and chief curator-at-large Klaus Biesenbach. ‘It is a paradigm for our technology and how fragile we are in this moment of progress. We think we can control it [the weather, the future, the elements] but we cannot.’
Behind the magic of the artwork is a highly tuned piece of technology. A sophisticated tracking system of cameras and sensors communicate with thousands of water valves to open and close in reaction to a physical presence, creating the invisible ‘force field’ that envelops you as you walk through the dark room and into the light. Water drips through a grid in the floor where it is filtered, treated and recycled, pumped through the machinery to fall back down moments later. A total of 1,800 litres of what Tek refers to as our ‘most precious resource’ are in play here every minute. The 150 sq m space can be experienced from within the rain or from the sidelines, for a different perspective.
If the enthusiasm of the 300 guests attending the opening night was anything to go by, the Yuz Museum's new piece will be a huge crowd pleaser. Adding to the electric excitement of the evening was a second work of art, privy to those lucky enough to attend: a dance by long-term Random collaborator and choreographer Wayne McGregor.
Made possible with the support of the Volkswagen Group as part of the carmaker's cultural engagement initiative, the Asian premiere of the Rain Room signals the commitment of both the Yuz Foundation and Volkswagen to making art accessible to (and enjoyable for) all.