Rain Room is an installation of perpetually falling water through which the viewer is invited to walk. 3D sensors monitor the whereabouts of participants and control the water valves in the ceiling accordingly so that wherever they walk, they remain dry. The viewer is given a false sense of importance, power, and control. In this room, rain responds to humanity.
Despite the playful nature of the experience of this work, Rain Room challenges our experience of rainfall out in the natural world: it questions our ability to control nature and our propensity to live in bubbles of isolated experience, untouched by weather and forces of nature.
This passage from Isaiah likens God’s word to the rain, which follows a continuous cycle of falling and watering. The prophet reminds us of water’s powerful proclivity to find its own course from the heavens to the sea, resisting human diversion and manipulation. The rain comes down from heaven and waters the earth. It enables the growth of crops, seed, and grain for bread before eventually flowing into the sea, and returning to the heavens. ‘My word shall not return to me empty’, says God, ‘it shall accomplish that which I purpose’ (55:11 NRSV); it shall succeed in doing what I sent it out to do. ‘God’s word is a word that does things’ observes Claus Westermann in his commentary on Isaiah 55; with both the rain, and with God’s word, ‘something is effected and achieves its purpose’ (1969: 289).
Some readings of this passage emphasize humanity’s agency in cooperating with God’s word, just as human cooperation is vital in bringing the rain’s work to fruition by harvesting the crops and turning them into food (Sommer 2014: 877). This kind of response and cooperation is simply not possible in Rain Room, where the presence of a human body actually stops the rain from falling.
In the real world, the power and energy of water will still ultimately find their way from the heavens, to the hills, to the sea, and back again, whatever we do to its natural course.
God’s word has that same power and energy. We can attempt to thwart that power. We can subvert its energy for our own gain. But it will always achieve its purpose before it returns to its source in heaven.
Sommer, Benjamin D. 2014. ‘Isaiah: Introduction and Annotations’, in The Jewish Study Bible, by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
Westermann, Claus. 1969. Isaiah 40–66: A Commentary, trans. by David M. G. Stalker (Philadelphia: Westminster Press)
55“Ho, every one who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in fatness.
3Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
4Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
5Behold, you shall call nations that you know not,
and nations that knew you not shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
6“Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
7let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and return not thither but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
12“For you shall go out in joy,
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign which shall not be cut off.”