Southern California Finally Sees Rain — In A Museum

Nov 1, 2015
Originally published on November 6, 2015 5:33 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This next story is about the lengths Californians will go to capture a little bit of rain. In drought-stricken Los Angeles, the most reliable place to do that is indoors, specifically inside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. NPR's Mandalit del Barco went to LACMA to try to get a little wet.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: The exhibit hall is dark with a single spotlight. Museum guards invite you to step inside a heavy downpour.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Proceed with caution.

DEL BARCO: OK, here it goes.

I step tentatively with my recorder zipped inside a plastic bag, just in case. During the press preview, I walk through the space with Los Angeles Daily News reporter Sandra Barrera. The rain stops around us, and we remain dry.

SANDRA BARRERA: Kind of biblical, isn't it? It's like parting the Red Sea.

DEL BARCO: LACMA's director, Michael Govan, is also delighted.

MICHAEL GOVAN: Who doesn't love rain in Southern California? That was part of the idea, like a rain dance to the gods - but also that it does cause you to think about issues of water. And hopefully it'll create some conversation.

DEL BARCO: The immersive installation uses 528 gallons of water that gets recycled. The average family uses 400 gallons a day according to the EPA. Computerized motion detectors can sense as you walk through and turn off the sprinklers above you. But you have to move slowly.

Ah, went too fast, got wet.

HANNES KOCH: The instinct is to run. And then you get soaked.

DEL BARCO: That's Hannes Koch, one of the artists who made this. He says he and his fellow artists weren't thinking about the drought when they built and designed Rain Room. It was more to explore art and technology.

It's like you're controlling the rain or the rain is controlling you.

KOCH: Yeah, I think it's that tension or that relationship, which is interesting to explore because you're not really controlling much here. You're part of the system, and it reacts to your presence. But then that does a lot in reverse to you as it dictates how fast you can go, where you go, how you move and so on.

DEL BARCO: Rain Room created a sensation when it was shown in London and New York. The artists have another such installation at the moment in Shanghai.

What do you see people doing in here? Do they - are they singing in the rain?

KOCH: No. They're mostly selfie-ing - selfie-ing, Instagram-ing in the rain.

DEL BARCO: He says kids especially enjoy the magical delusion of thinking they can control their environment. And LACMA director Michael Govan says the Rain Room has another effect.

GOVAN: One of the things art can do is cause us to pause, slow down. And this does that absolutely.

DEL BARCO: Going to see rain is a hot ticket in LA. More than 17,000 people have already booked time to get wet at LACMA. Rain Room opens today. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.