Tower: Instant Structure for Schacht XII
Renowned for their large scale experimental installations, rAndom International created a towering structure that stands 25 meters tall and brings communities together in a setting not originally intended for social use. As a contrast to the rustic and historical industrial complex of Zeche Zollverein (a former coal mine) in Germany, Tower creates an almost transient and communal essence in this space. Using the water from Zollverein itself, rAndom International created a massive structure in which rain falls down on its participants. As the structure faces toward the skies, it releases a rain of water from its highest point, engulfing the viewer in a experience rivaling that of the pleasant rain showers found in summer. Built with towering steel beams and gratings, Tower runs through the help of a management system and software that controls how much of the water is pumped into the structure at any given time. As the “rain” falls towards the ground, residents, by passers and community members are welcome to run through the water playing games or just to simply enjoy its calming nature.
Through exploring the behavior, reactions and intuition relating to the natural phenomena, rAndom International made use of Zollverein itself. In wanting to observe how humans interact with the “natural world” in non social environments, they created an unnatural yet organic art form in order to bring a community together. As the water cycles through the structure, it disappears instantaneously upon hitting the ground. Even though the ground is wet and no puddles are created, the structure cycles the water back through, keeping and balancing the historical and structural integrity of Zollverein. As Tower makes use of the six million cubic meters of water that must be pumped from the mine every year, the effect creates a large scale community space out of what was once used for a coal mine. By bringing the actual structure and resource of the historical mine to be part of the installation, Tower created a space in which people in the region as well as those visiting could gather and interact together. This installation also provides a service to the structure itself by keeping it intact. Upon hitting the ground, the “rain” crashes down imitating the loud thundering sounds of rain storms in which the audience can enjoy and participate in “the storm” at the risk of getting undoubtedly drenched.
Where Tower makes sure its participants get completely soaked, rAndom International’s Rain Room does quite the opposite. Using custom software and 3D tracking cameras, the rain room is similar to the Tower but on a smaller scale. As the cameras track human movements, participants are exposed and protected from the falling rain. By tracking these movements, software makes the rain of certain blocks turn off the moment a human walks in and turns them on again when they continue walking. This allows participants to engage in an experience of a rainstorm without actually getting wet, unlike the Tower, where they are soaked. Both the Tower and the Rain Room engage their participants and observe how they interact with the natural world. As the Rain Room is considered a representation of the environment, it allows for exploration through a natural phenomenon involving smell and sound. It creates an intense experience that “[heightens] awareness of people’s own presence in space” (Ng, David (2015)).
Unlike Tower which uses water to explore the natural world, Beatriz da Costa’s Invisible Earthlings allows its viewers to explore the natural world through what they normally cannot see. In order to investigate the relationship between human beings and non-human organisms, da Costa illuminated microbes she collected from her backyard. Never really seen by the human eye, da Costa uncovers “a world beyond the one we witness, a microscopic world, which is unseen to us; it is invisible” (Truong, Mindy (2009)). Placed in tiny pods under hanging lights, Invisible Earthlings allows its viewers to visibly see the microbes through a scale they would normally not have access to. Despite being something that most humans ignore due to the fact that they cannot be seen, microbes are an important organism to the natural world. Through the help of various students, da Costa made Invisible Earthlings to invoke human interaction and consideration for what surrounds them, much like Tower does for the people around Zollverein mines. The main ideological purpose that differs from these two works, is that of the surroundings they represent. While Tower focuses on the visible phenomenons of the natural world, Invisible Earthlings takes that which is invisible and makes it seen.
Though rAndom International is not the only group interested in exploring human interaction with the natural world, they effectively combine natural resources and sites with technology to create works such as Tower. Works such as this encourage mass human engagement with the surrounding world. With the creation of Tower, they extended the Rain Room to incorporate its missing “feel factor,” in which its participants can now touch and fully experience the natural world through that of a “rainstorm.” It is through these interactions with the community landmarks such as the coal mine that allow for the experience with the natural world to be organic and empowering for those involved as they are able to walk away with a new outlook for what surrounds them.