Art galore on upcoming MRT Downtown Line

Eleven stations on the Downtown Line 2 will have works by Singapore artists

Like its namesake, the new Botanic Gardens MRT station is filled with nature. The Gardens' iconic Tembusu tree, the same one featured on the $5 note, is captured in three forms on the walls of the station's concourse and platform.

In one, the tree's skeleton is done up in metal inlay. In another, a sandblasted silhouette depicts the tree with birds roosting on its branches. The last artwork is a photograph of the tree in its full crowning glory.

On the ground are etchings of leaves, with quotes from members of the public and artists such as poet Arthur Yap. The artworks are done by local artist Shirley Soh, 59, who gave her pieces the collective name of What Is A Tree?.

Botanic Gardens station is one of 12 stations on the upcoming Downtown Line 2, which opens on Dec 27. Eleven of these stations will have work by Singapore artists, thanks to the Land Transport Authority's Art In Transit programme, which was launched in 1997 and aims to bring art into Singapore's rail network.

"Most people walk through train stations in a very hurried fashion," says Soh. "That's why I created different works in different parts of the station, to create a feeling of deja vu as they navigate through: 'Was that a tree? Is it the same tree?'

"We are a city famous for our greenery, but we live such harried lives. I hope, if anything, commuters notice these works and take the chance to think about them."

We are a city famous for our greenery, but we live such harried lives. I hope, if anything, commuters notice these works and take the chance to think about them.''

ARTIST SHIRLEY SOH on her artworks which feature the iconic Tembusu tree

Across the stations are a wide array of artworks exploring different themes and moods. At Newton station, artist Tan Zi Xi created a black-and-white drawing of the area in year 2200. The 11m by 9m picture forms the backdrop to the station's escalators and commuters can marvel at her imagined city, comprising layers of stacked buildings with snaking highways.

At King Albert Park station, bronze sculptures of cutesy figures by artist collective Artists Caravan are displayed around the place, including the lift shaft.

Some artists also strove to include the culture and history of the station's vicinity into their works, such as Grace Tan's Woven Field in Little India station.

The glimmering installation of geometric patterns made of aluminium stretches out above the train platform. It was inspired by the patterns intraditional Indian saris.

"It was about capturing the narrative of the neighbourhood and it had to sit nicely with the architecture," says the 36-year-old, pointing at the ribbed walls of the station. "It has to all come together to tell a story that is true to the area."

Meanwhile, the spirit of the Sungei Road Thieves' Market, which will have to make way for Sungei Road station on the Downtown Line, lives on in Rochor station: Students from the Lasalle College of the Arts drew vintage objects, such as tiffin carriers, that were regular wares at the informal market, which has been around for nearly eight decades.

While other artists have worked with students from nearby schools for the Art In Transit project, this is the first time stations have been assigned to institutions alone.

For example, Tan Kah Kee station has two works by students in nearby Hwa Chong Institution. The piece at the station's entrance, Resilience, resembles the sun, while the piece on the concourse, Gratitude, looks like stormy waves.

Mr Tan Siang Yu, principal consultant for aesthetics at Hwa Chong Institution, says of the works, made up of texts reflecting the students' thoughts: "It's exciting to see the collective consciousness of the school, reflecting on the values of resilience and gratitude. It's equally exciting to know that thousands of commuters can reflect on these thoughts as they pass through the station in the years to come."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 29, 2015, with the headline 'Arty stations all around'. Print Edition | Subscribe