So far, it’s a normal day. I’m about to interview some artists. I’m in a warehouse in Hackney. It’s raining. Except. Outside, it’s quite nice. It’s not raining outside. It’s raining in here.

This magic has been wrought by the design studio rAndom International (sic), founded in 2005 by Stuart Wood, Florian Ortkrass and Hannes Koch. Their joyful installations often use light and movement to investigate human behaviour and interaction. The studio’s next project is the reason we’re in this warehouse — Rain Room is the latest commission for the Barbican Centre’s Curve Gallery. As you enter the long, snaking space, at first you won’t see the piece but you’ll definitely hear it — a room of torrential rain. But step into the downpour and something amazing happens, or rather doesn’t happen. You don’t get wet.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen it set up,” says Koch over the thundering of the water. “We knew what it should look like but it’s a big difference to see it in real life.” The magic is done with motion sensors, which pick up your presence and stop the rain from falling from the narrow section of the ceiling immediately above you.

Rain Room is a continuation of the studio’s fascination with “making people aware of their own behaviour”, Koch says. They create spaces in which people have to consciously interact with the work — and sometimes each other — to get the full effect. In Audience, which is currently on display in a show at Carpenters Workshop Gallery in Paris, the visitor walks through a sea of mounted mirrors, which turn suddenly en mass to “look” at you as you pass. It’s extremely disconcerting, but it’s also fascinating to see how other people react, as the mirrors only ‘choose’ one individual from a group.

“You had grown men dancing in front of it [to attract its attention],” says Wood. “That started becoming much more interesting, trying to play with people. Rain Room was about going to the other extreme, creating a space which was purely about how people react in it.” With some trepidation, I imagine. It’s hard to underestimate how reluctant humans are to get wet.

“When we first turned this thing on, we were very nervous about walking in,” Wood admits. “I still am a bit, even though we wrote it and we know what to expect. Maybe that’s because I’m quite a nervous person but the piece is designed to extract your personality type. I know my Mum will not walk into it, I’ll have to push her in. And there are people who will go bombing straight in.”

They’re not yet sure how they will encourage visitors into the downpour. A room full of rain is a pretty cool spectacle in itself, will people realise that they can take the next step? Wood concedes that this might be tricky. “We might find that no one goes into it for the first couple of days. Then maybe we make it so it’s all off, so that the person who walks into the centre goes in and says ‘what’s this’ and then we switch it on from both sides. Then suddenly you’re encapsulated.” It’s an inexplicably terrifying thought, but having braved the torrent and emerged undraggled (even my hair), I can tell you, once you’re in, you won’t want to get out of the rain.

Rain Room is at the Barbican Curve from October 4 to March 3, barbican.org.uk; rAndom International’s solo show, Before the Rain, is at Carpenters Workshop Gallery, Paris, until December 21, carpentersworkshopgallery.com


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