When I asked a friend to join me for an outlandish cultural event she replied, somewhat hesitantly I thought, that she would, but only because nowadays “only the weirdest experiences will do”. Given that I’ve recently paid to have a black hood thrown over my head and be driven in a van around Shoreditch as if being arrested by government forces in Syria, I can see what she means.
On the black hood scale, this week’s art outing was rather tame. But the Rain Room at the Barbican does have its dark side. You walk into a low-lit chamber shot with streaks of lights that dazzle in the gloom. One minute you’re inside the Curve Gallery and all is normal. The next you’re stepping into a monsoon downpour, which is thoroughly strange when you know you’re inside a huge hall. Then, as you gingerly step beneath the streaming water, “knowing” you’re about to get soaking wet, the streams of rain miraculously stop and all you feel are little errant splashes. It’s truly bizarre. Moses may have felt like this when the Red Sea parted.
For all this, the show didn’t move me as much as The Weather Project in the Tate Modern turbine hall a few years back. Then, a giant sun beamed down from on high and had visitors basking under its rays. I guess it just points up the difference between sun and rain. A glowing sun has you drifting around and opening up to the people around you, whereas rain makes you recoil into yourself — even when you know you won’t get wet.