Artlyst recently travelled to Shanghai to visit the latest iteration of Random International’s Rain Room, recently installed at The Yuz Museum in the city. The installation is sponsored by Volkswagen, and marks the first display of Rain Room in China. The work was created by the British-German artist collective, which began with displays in London and New York, with this version surpassing all previously exhibited versions of this immersive installation.
Budi Tek, founder of the YUZ foundation which operates the YUZ museum, highlighted the installation’s importance as a signifier of environmental issues both globally and in the city; citing the importance of water to the people of Shanghai, which is one of the most polluted cities in the world with a perpetual smog hanging in the air. Artlyst got to experience this version of the Rain Room for ourselves – along with the 300 guests at the gala opening.
Rain Room responds to the presence and behaviour of its participants, creating a surreal environment where the viewer is ‘rained around’ – able to walk through the work without getting wet, moving through a large-scale environment of perpetually falling water that ceases to pour wherever a person walks through any particular area of the work. With sensors in the ceiling of the installation responding to movement; the work will still rain on the viewer if they move a little too quickly.
With this the viewer experiences a loss of control, the installation takes over the pace of your journey through the experience, with an interesting existential contradiction. At the same time as the viewer experiences this control – they are also introduced to the seemingly God-like ability to manipulate the weather; interacting with the kinetic movement of the Rain Room. It is this visceral quality of the installation that gives the work a global appeal transcending language and other cultural barriers of understanding. The experience is a universal one which may also speak to the people of Shanghai about their own relationship with the environment.
The fragile progress of the viewer – safe in their apparent forcefield – they still experience the sound, vision, and smell of rain – highlighting the relationship formed between viewer, nature, and technology. This results in a highly immersive installational experience for the viewer. But is this particular work from random International actually art? The definition of installation as an art form as opposed to sculpture, is that with sculpture the viewer exists independently of the work and outside of its sphere of influence. With installation the viewer is an intrinsic component of the work, and a mechanism within its universe. With Random’s Rain Room, the work’s very definition is in encompassing the viewer as the very core element of the work. This universe does indeed revolve around the viewer.
The work is a thrillingly immersive experience, balancing aspects of control, as an effective signifier of our relationship with nature. In effecting the fall of rain we seem to possess a God-like control of ‘nature’ – albeit in simulation – but it is the installation that actually controls our movements. The work offers the viewer a physical hyperreality – perhaps not quite an inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality via the technologically of an advanced postmodern society – but with the addition of the installation’s physical poetry, the viewer is lost in a child-like wonder.
Words: Paul Black, photo: P A Black © Artlyst 2015
Rain Room by Random International – Shanghai Yuz Museum, Shanghai, West Bund / Xuhui District, China – until 31 December 2015