The Rain Room (as installed at Barbican Centre, London) by Random International

Random International

The Rain Room (as installed at Barbican Centre, London) , 2013, Installation, 100 sqm, Photo: Guy Corbishley / Alamy Stock Photo

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Weathering the Word

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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.

 

References

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)

 


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