Blue Rain at the LSE library

Blue Rain

Whether you’re making your way into the LSE library or fall just short of your destination to have a couple of pints at the George IV (local pub just opposite the library, for those who’ve never been), you are likely to notice a new embellishment to the otherwise pretty uninviting university campus: a several feet tall arrangement of flickering blue LED lights. No, it’s not to deter the pigeons. What? No, it’s also not the school’s latest attempt to raise money by selling advertising comparable to that at Piccadilly Circus.

It’s art. Art by the San Francisco based artist Michael Brown, paid for by a former LSE graduate from the class of 1965. His work is called “Blue Rain” – which makes sense because it does indeed look a bit like rain running down the side of the building, or a waterfall actually (especially if you belong to the “couple of pints at the George IV” audience).

I had a quick chat with the artist just after the work had been installed today. He explained what the cryptic flashing of the blue LED lights are meant to read (and eventually will read, after some adjustments to the ticker speeds and the brightness). In several overlapping layers, they present information retrieved directly from the inside of the library – “the research being carried out”.

First I thought this meant that everyone can read my essays as I sit inside, typing away. But “Blue Rain” will only retrieve the library catalog searches, books being checked out, and new additions to the collection. Still, if I type in some funny search term at the right time, will it make its way onto “Blue Rain”?!

I’ll leave all matters of aesthetics to the reader. Please leave your comments… One LSE student passing by already opened the debate. He critically asked about the cost of the thing. And what about any return on investment?

Please visit the artist’s website at, where the photoshoped picture above was taken from. The pictures taken today by a photographer will be available on the LSE website soon.

4 responses to “Blue Rain at the LSE library

  1. I should start by saying that I haven’t seen Blue Rain yet, but plan to do so tomorrow as soon as I get to campus.

    Just by reading the description though, it reminded me of two other art installations. First, the Question Mark Inside, which consisted of people typing up words that would be projected on the dome of St Paul’s cathedral. People were free to type up anything they wanted and it ended up having some pretty random things. I for one, found it extremely weird to have the words ‘sex’ and ‘breasts’ projected on a church. So I guess I’m extremely curious as to what students are looking up.

    Second, when you said there was already someone asking about the cost and the returns on investment it reminded me of the giant waterfalls installed under various New York bridges last summer. They were criticized for being too expensive, but really, who is to say how much is too much to pay for art? And are the returns on investment really quantifiable when it comes to art?

  2. “… in several overlapping layers” – now why does that sound like the viewer won’t be able to read anything at all?

    I for one, loved The Question Inside … it was surreal to be walking on South Bank and looking across the river at the cathedral with the words ‘Allah’ in Arabic, ‘Prabhu’ in Hindi, and ‘God’ in English projected on its dome. (I guess I missed the sex and breasts bit that Flo caught!)

    I think Blue Rain is an ‘interesting’ idea for an installation. But it seems like an adaptation of certain pre-existing new media applications available online. Like your site trackers, counters, browsing history, or the Google Newsmap link that Isa sent us. Does it become art if you mount it on a wall?

    *considers printing out controversial emails and pasting them on canvas*

  3. Hey Seb! Thank you so much for your post because finally I understood what was all about (after hear that people is getting married inside the Library I thought they started a new business strategy that includes wedding and clubbing)
    At some point I like that art and research get combined and even though they have to make adjustments in order to read what is being search it will be really interesting to know what is happening in the searching engine (by the way, do you know how it work when the library is close?) Actually I won’t mind to spend an hour outside looking (from the pub of course… with something to drink at my hand). Anyone want to join me?
    P.S.: I have to say at the first I thought it was a waste of money because there are so many things that need to be done before… but well if is a donation, in the name of art, why not? Now I like it more 🙂

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