Sheltered by the Rain

A magical desert downpour

YOU STEP INTO the dark space, excited, even a little fearful, and discover something familiar, a throwback to an earlier moment in your life. Yet, it’s different.

It seems a simple idea: a room that’s an upside-down fountain, partially illuminated by a single light. You are invited to walk straight into the downpour. You brace and step in, but you don’t get wet. Sensors detect where you are and stop the rain from falling just there. 

Random International, an art collective based in London and Berlin, created this immersive installation in 2012, a piece that sits at the intersection of art, technology and nature. It has been exhibited in London, Los Angeles, New York and Shanghai. Now, making its Middle East premiere, Rain Room has found its permanent home in Sharjah. This is an experience by itself – a single art project rarely becomes a permanent installation.

The specially created building, itself impressive, was designed by the Sharjah Art Foundation and the UAE-based SpaceContinuum Design Studio, in collaboration with Sharjah-based Shape Architecture Practice + Research. Its bold, straight lines are in marked contrast to the Al Majarrah Park opposite and the lively wider neighbourhood. Despite the openness of the structure’s interior, and the noise of the city beyond, a calmness inside brings you quickly into focus, a sensation intensified by the long, sloping corridor that leads from the entrance to the rain.

The experience is defined and amplified by its location. Compared with previous host cities, the contrast between the installation and the surrounding climate is greatest in Sharjah. In a country with so little water, a room with rain is something magical by itself.

But there’s something more. As you enter the rainfall something strange happens. The rain itself becomes a room within a room, a space for feelings and emotions. Coming from a country where water is abundant, as I do—there are few places where life is shaped as much by water as it is in the Netherlands—rain is both necessary and resented, even dangerous. Rain is something to be prepared for and avoided.

Stepping into this rainy rectangle cube gives me the smallest feeling of fear. My heart rate goes up at the thought of getting wet. But the reality is totally different. As I walk slowly, a dry zone moves with me, protectively. The sound of everlasting rain blocks out distractions. The thin light turns my fellow visitors – only six people may enter at a time—into ghostly silhouettes, as drops glint all around them. An invisible hand has guided me to a room that is not dangerous but safe. It is protecting me. The room takes care that I am not getting wet. And it takes me back to my memories of rainy days when I only could sit inside: warm, cosy and safe.

Walking through this special space, leaving the rain through an invisible door and entering again via another, I feel a sensation of happiness, curiosity and joy. After 15 minutes of contemplation, I leave this room made of rain, this safe and happy haven, via the long corridor back to the world and the light and the city buzz. By surrendering to the slow rhythm of the installation, I absorb the magic of Rain Room. It has touched me and added a new experience to my life. —Peter Scheres

Hours: Saturday to Thursday, 9:00 am to 9:00 pm. Friday, 4:00 pm to 11:00 pm. Prices: Adults, 25AED. Students and concessions, 15AED. Children up to 5 years, free. Book in advance at https://rainroom.sharjahart.org/getTicket.htm

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