Hyper Essay: Rain Room, Random International (2012)

Rain room is an interactive, experiential art installation created by Hannes Koch and Florian Ortkrass for Random International. A collaborative studio for experimental practice within contemporary art founded by the two in 2005. It was first shown at the Barbican in London (2012). The installation allows visitors to experience navigating through rain without ever getting wet. A dichotomy that greatly intrigues me. In this essay, I will provide an analysis of the installation including the mechanism of how it functions as well as the concept behind the work by the artists, in its relation to topics of Interactivity as well as Immersion.

Watch the above video to see how Rain Room works!

In order to create this experience, motion sensors are placed around the space to detect the movements of the human body. Over 2500 litres of self-cleaning recycled water is controlled using a computerised system automatically. When sensors in the cameras detect a person’s movement, they signal one of the many water nozzles in the ceiling and the water stops in a rough six-foot radius around the person. Allowing visitors to navigate through the “rain” without getting wet. Due to the nature and size of the work, it is site specific and carries certain limitations in the viewing experience. For example, viewers are only allowed to enter the space for a limited period of 15 minutes and no more than 6 visitors are allowed in the room at the same time. (according to the Sharjah Art Foundation where the work is permanently exhibited)

Rain Room by rAndom International at the Barbican
Water Nozzle of Rain Room from the ceiling
Motion sensors for Rain Room

Like all Interactive Artworks, Koch and Ortkrass has created a feedback and responsive system within Rain Room where visitors are afforded a certain level of agency in the control and creation of the artwork. As what was highlighted in Roy Ascott’s Behaviorist Art and the Cybernatic Vision, Rain room is intended to “draw the spectator into active participation in the act of creation” as well as provide “the opportunity to become involved in creative behavior on all levels of experience – physical, emotional and conceptual.” This is also in line with Random International’s aim in “questioning aspects of identity and autonomy in the post digital age”. The Artists “aim to explore the human condition in an increasingly mechanized world through emotional and physically intense experiences.

Rain room can be understood as a representation of human intervention in the natural environment where human presence prevents rain from falling. It is the artists’ exploration of how human relationships to each other and to nature are increasingly mediated through and filtered through technology. It is my understanding that the message and meaning behind Modern Interactive Art is felt and understood more tangibly than traditional, classical art because of the collaborative nature of the work and ‘control’ given to the viewers to explore the space that also initiates a conversation between the viewer and the artist through the installation. In an interview, Koch and Ortkrass describes the visitor experience that they have intended. “We don’t really have set ideas. I think that the whole point of setting it up to see how (and) what they experience they have, and how they perceive it respond it and interact with. This variety of stuff that you cannot plan or predict or anticipate.” This relates to Nobert Weiner’s Cybernetics and History and his discussion of communication and control in entropy. The system created for Rain Room allows for a large amount of variability despite it’s “prearranged behaviour” and a large part of the viewing experience leverages on the control being given to the viewer’s feedback and response albeit in a manner that disassociates from reality. What I find interesting is that despite having crafted an experience and a message behind the work, what Koch and Ortkrass were truly interested in was not if the viewers were able to catch the intended message but to observe and question how would they behave and participate in the given space. How we perceive this type of work is no longer a question of what does It mean?  but rather what would you do?

Watch the Interview that Random International gave explaining Rain Room:

Another aspect of Rain Room is how it plays on the environment to create an immersive almost trance-like experience with concepts that are not realizable in the physical world. The idea of walking in rain without being wet defies the law of the physical world yet we are able to experience it physically in a pseudo-reality created by Rain Room. This is largely due to the physical interface of the space created that engages all the human sensory organs, enhancing the disparity of what is familiar and what this pseudo-reality. Upon entering the installation, visitors are simultaneously exposed to and protected from the rain falling all around. Although the sound and smell of the rain are intense, the touch of rain remains absent leaving visitors dry within a continual downpour as they navigate through the space. It is similar to the concept of Virtual Reality (VR) where a pseudo, life-like reality is created by engaging the senses and making use of an “interactive” screen to allow viewers to experience, similar to Osmose by Char Davies. Yet for Rain Room, this “Virtual” reality becomes part of the actual physical interface and the “ultimate display” mentioned by Ivan Sutherland are our eyes which causes us to question the reality of the space.

Rain Room creates a new experience that we would never be able to experience in a physical reality, but unlike other interactive art the dissonance introduced in Rain Room becomes more apparent because of the familiarity of the content of the work which is based off a natural phenomenon that, through computerization, is modified to create a man-made natural environment that reacts differently to how we perceive it to be. The system created by the artists also allows for an immersion into the space that as you interact with the work, new realities are perceived by the viewer and this is how the art communicates in this feedback loop.

In conclusion, Rain Room provides an interesting perspective in which I am able to perceive the concepts of Interactivity and Immersion in new ways other than what was taught or explained in concepts. And through this analysis I have realised that while we may learn a concept, we must be open to how it can also evolve as we study it’s application. Similarly, I believe that the concepts touched on are simply the bedrock of interactive Art and interactive art of the future will continually push these ideas and concepts to new limits in search of fresh perspective and meanings.





Norbert Wiener, “Cybernetics in History,” 1954, Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality

Roy Ascott, “Behavioral Art and the Cybernetic Vision,” 1966, Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality

Ivan Sutherland, “The Ultimate Display,” 1965, Wired Magazine

First Things Second. – A Manifesto

First Things Second.

Inspired by Ken Garland’s 1964 call to action on the prioritising of design’s role and purpose in the age of consumerism, First Things Second looks at the priorities of Designers today, comfortable with status quo as merely vendors for Design. How far we have fallen to allow ourselves to be merely silent spectators. Yet, the creative call is much more. It is therefore time for a reshuffle of our priorities.

We are not (just) designers, but active shapers and movers of culture.

Hyperessay Artist Selection – Random International

Image result for hannes koch and florian ortkrass
Hannes Koch (left) and Florian Ortkrass (right)

Random International was founded in 2005 by Hannes Koch and Florian Ortkrass as a collaborative studio for experimental practice within contemporary art.

I first heard of them when I chanced upon their well-known interactive art installation done  titled “Rain Room”. In which participants are invited into a space, to experience what it would be like to be in the rain but not get wet. I was immediately intrigued by the dichotomy presented in the work and decided to read more about the work itself as well as the artists behind it.

Image result for random international
Rain Room (2012)










“Questioning aspects of identity and autonomy in the post-digital age, the group’s work invites active participation. RANDOM INTERNATIONAL explores the human condition in an increasingly mechanised world through emotional yet physically intense experiences. The artists aim to prototype possible behavioural environments by experimenting with different notions of consciousness, perception, and instinct.”

– excerpt taken from Random International biography from website here

As a designer, I am deeply passionate about how design and art is able to explore tensions and gaps in the human experience and manipulate these gaps to create new environments for us to inhabit both physically and emotionally. Why I chose Random International as an artist is their continual exploration of the human condition, and they express their discovery through creating innovative and thought-provoking work that stirs up dialogues between people and within ourselves which I feel is the very core value of an interactive media art piece.

Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution during the period of 1760 to 1840 marked a huge turning point in human history as it ushered in a period of radical technological, social and economic change. Some of its most notable changes included the transition from hand to machine productions, creation of new manufacturing processes through developments of machine tools as well as the rise of factory system.

Artistic movements prior was in stark contrast to the Industrial Revolution. Art movements such as Baroque (1590-1725), Rococo (1700-1785), Neo-classicism (Late 18th century – Early 19th century) were classified as Historicism where patrons of the arts were mostly monarchs or people rich enough to consume such art. Both the Baroque and Rococo period placed emphasise on “Beauty to the eyes” and the works produced featured heavy ornamentation and looked very extravagant. Since it was designed and built by craftsman for the rich to reflect their status. There was a shift brought by Neo- Classicism as they viewed previous styles to be too overly “cheesy” and began to rationalise beauty through the use of geometric shapes and platonic forms with minimal use of colours with the emphasis of “Beauty to the mind”.

The combination of several factors resulted in a favourable climate for the revolution in Britain. The Agricultural Revolution in 18th century resulted in an increase in food production, which meant lower prices for food and thus an increase in consumption for manufactured products. Abundance of natural resources also meant that Britain was able to utilise their minerals to run industrial machines. British Colonialism during this period provided a vast consumer market ready to purchase its manufactured good. This is also aided by the construction of vast Transportation Networks which reduced transportation costs and increased efficacy. Most importantly, Technological developments such as the Steam Engine (James Watt,1785), the Spinning Jenny (James Hargreaves, 1764) and Power Loom (Edmund Cartwright 1785) shaped the manufacturing landscape by allowing greater quantities for production and increased production speed.

The changes brought by the industrial revolution included the following:
1) The use of new basic materials, mainly iron and steel
2) New energy sources (steam power, fossil fuels, electricty)
3) Invention of new machines (and tools)
4) New forms of organisation of work
5) Developments in transportation and communications

Driven by increase in consumer demand, and technological developments and breakthroughs, Industrial revolution focused on the mechanisation of processes to improve efficacy. Invention of New machines and new organisation of work (factory systems) allowed for an increased production with smaller expenditure of human energy as well as mass production of manufactured goods. This resulted in increased job opportunities which increased the overall amount and of wealth and its distribution, enlarging the middle class, lower costs and prices for goods and a shifting role of workers from craftsmen to specialised workers, albeit terrible working conditions and social issues such as child-labour.

The shift in the roles of worker meant that labourers at factory systems would acquire new and distinctive skills, instead of being a craftsman working with hand tools as were the case in prior years, the craftsman now became a machine operator, subject to factory discipline. These new machines and systems replaced the craftsmen system with faster and cheaper production but often greatly inferior results as the critical eye and artistry of the craftsman was sacrificed for speed where the machine now determines the final product. This also meant that the works created were largely similar and not unique. With minimal ornamentation and simpler forms that made it easier to be produced in large quantities at faster speeds. One example would be Chair No. 14 by Michael Thonet in which the different components can be dismantled and put together and thus was able to be flat-packed. This was in contrast to French Rococo chairs by Louis Delanois which were bulky, had curvy forms and featured much ornamentation. This also marked the stylistic difference between Industrial Revolution produced works and the period before. Where the focus was on efficacy and function.

Industrial furniture was simple, practical, easy to mass produce and made to withstand harsh conditions. It was merely for daily work and not considered to be stylish.

At the height of the Industrial Revolution, Sir Henry Cole (1808-1882) a British Art educator and Prince Albert (1819-1861), Husband and consort of Queen Victoria pushed for the organization of The Great Exhibition of 1851, it was the world’s first World Exposition to showcase the industrial and cultural products of the world. Its purpose was to address the problems of taste, design and production in modern society ands also to showcase Britain’s success in innovation science, arts and engineering, establishing itself as a leader in the world’s first industrial leader. The main exhibit included over 100,000 objects from 15,000 contributors and included a range if products and items from modern machinery, cultural objects, jewellery and ornate furniture.

The exhibition took place from 1 May 1851 to 15 October. By the time it closed, the Great Exhibition was seen as a popular success as it had garnered over 6 million visitors, with the international nature of the exhibition giving visitors a powerful sense of a newly wide world. It had gained sufficient profit for the organisers to channel the resources to create the South Kensington Museum (also known as the Victoria and Albert Museum) subsequently. However, the critical reception for the exhibition was not as positive as critics panned the works that were created by industrialised methods to be shoddy and poorly designed. Owen Jones, an English architect and designer said in a journal of the Great Exhibition, “After wondering through the halls of this most wonderful assemblage of the world’s industry, the artist who passes down the nave from east to west will see on either side but a fruitless struggle to produce in art novelty without beauty – beauty without intelligence; all work without faith.” Jones’ comments seems to suggest of the works produced to have been over-decorated with unrelated styles, as though it was art for art’s sake. Jones’ use of the word “faith” in his description also speaks of a spiritual concept in design which is absent in the industrial based works produced during this period.

In conclusion, the distinct characteristic of the industrial revolution is its pursuit of mechanisation automation processes, the result is higher production quantities and lower costs of production however, critics have raised issue on how this had ultimately affected the quality of works produced as it no longer carried the spirit of the craftsman but rather simply machine determined. The values presented in the industrial revolution also set the background for Design Reformation Movements as critics of the period John Ruskin and William Morris decided to respond to such mechanised methods of production.



Creative Response 3: Bauhaus

“A House is Not A Home”

The Housing Development Board (HDB) was formed in the 1960s to clear squatters and slums and solve housing issues in Singapore. This is achieved by building and resettling Singaporeans high-rise, low cost state-built housing that has since then become iconic in Singapore and is one of the many things that make Singapore unique.

With over 82 percent of Singapore living in public housing provided by the government, HDBs have resolved housing shortages and land scarcity problems that plagued the nation in its formation years.

This design aims to capture the elements of HDB and also highlight some of the issues I feel it may face. The difficulty was trying to use basic shapes and its relationship to form abstract designs that would make sense of translate my thoughts. The idea of this design was to deconstruct the shapes of a simple house icon (that consists of a triangle roof and a square build) and combine that with Singapore’s HDB.

The red circle represents the tiny red dot of Singapore that we all live in. The elongated rectangles represents the densely packed HDB housing in Singapore. The use of different colours ( and line weight) to overlap all of the rectangles together was to illustrate the Ethnic Integration Policy that was introduced in the sales of HDB to promote racial integration in the HDB. The yellow triangle carries the meaning of both a roof and also an upwards facing arrow, symbolising Singapore’s continual progress as a nation.

The design attempts to question Singapore’s pursuit of progress and while HDB solves the housing issues of Singapore, many Singaporeans still struggle to find their sense of belonging and identity. Is this ‘home’ truly?

Dada Creative Response


What stood out to me about the Dada art movement, was the underlying satirical and nonsensical nature of the artworks produced. Inspired by this, I wanted to explore this in the context of Singapore.

To start my ideation process, I wrote down on small slips of paper of what are some specific singlish phrases/food that are unique to Singapore. I then passed the slips of paper to members of my family to pick out and the results were as follows.

  • Bak Chor Mee
  • Laksa
  • Bak Ku Teh
  • Talk Cock
  • Shiok

With these five words, I then tried to connect the dots and search for meaning to express a certain message, making sure to include these 5 words in my final response.

The end result is:

I wanted to explore the idea of FOOD culture in Singapore and inspired by Dadaism idea of rejecting logic and embracing irrationality, I decided to make a  huge ‘what if’ statement within the culture of Singapore. This was created by bringing in ideas of ‘fake news’, to challenge the role of media in Singapore which is mainly used for national building. This included changing history by altering the popular news article page spread in which Singapore was reported to have split from Singapore, marking her journey towards independence. This is juxtaposed against Food as a national identity. And should Singapore be out of it, would this actually destroy our identity, or mark our step towards independence from it?

Image sources:







A rebus puzzle of my name.

(A hint, the person isn’t running!)

Icons Taken from NounProject:

turn by Alex Auda Samora from the Noun Project


jogging by Jems Mayor from the Noun Project