Art on the fly

Check out art between flights, with more appearing in airports including Singapore's

Around the world, art is slowly making its way into airports, offering travellers options to keep themselves entertained beyond duty-free shopping.

Espace Musees, which opened in December 2012, is a museum dedicated to art within Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has a permanent annex in Schiphol Airport. In Asia, two of the best cities to see art between flights are Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport and Seoul's Incheon International Airport, which has the Cultural Museum of Korea in its Transfer Lounge.

Things are no different at Singapore's Changi Airport. There are close to 10 large-scale artworks displayed prominently in Terminals 1 and 3.

Several of these are special commissions by Singapore artists, while one piece, titled Wings Of Hope by celebrated Mexican artist Jorge Marin, is on loan to celebrate 40 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and Mexico.

The airport consulted art specialists for the selection of the works. With more than 50 million travellers passing through the airport each year, the artworks had to be universal in appeal and accessible.

Mr Jayson Goh, senior vicepresident for Airport Operations Management, Changi Airport Group, tells The Straits Times: "Displaying art in an airport is markedly different from displaying art in a gallery or home. The scale of an airport is different and the artworks have to gel appropriately with the airport landscape seamlessly."

Works of Singapore artists such as potter Iskandar Jalil and sculptor Kumari Nahappan were picked to complement the architectural spaces of the terminal and add to the passenger experience.

When The Straits Times did a three-hour art tour of Terminal 3, several families with young children were spotted posing with the works and reading the accompanying text about them.

Housewife Sarah Nguigot her two young children to interact with Bengaluru-based Indo-Danish artist duo Pors & Rao's whimsical sound installation, Pygmies. Tiny mechanical creatures make an appearance from behind boxes, but disappear when passers-by make a loud sound. Ms Ngui, 32, says: "This is a good way to get a break from the usual things we see at airports."

On the move to have more art in the airport, Mr Goh, 42, says: "Art enhances the ambience of airport terminals. We believe that art, just like our themed gardens, helps to soften the otherwise rigid feeling of a vast terminal building."

At the same time, the pieces also allow Changi Airport to distinguish its terminals from one another.

Terminal 1, for instance, has only one large-scale installation, the show-stopping Kinetic Rain. Comprising 1,216 lightweight aluminium droplets, it has been widely photographed and Instagrammed. Each droplet is powered by a motor housed in the ceiling of the departure hall. The motor controls the sculptural movements, which have a mesmeric effect on the viewer. Made by German design firm Art+Com, led by Germanybased Finnish artist Jussi Angesleva, the installation morphs into 16 different shapes in a 15-minute loop. Every shape, ranging from an airplane to a kite, captures the varied aspects of flight.

The main concourse of Terminal 3 features Daisy by German artist Christian Moeller. This large artwork extends nearly 13m from the arrival to departure levels and has sensors that respond to travellers' movements. True to its title, the aesthetics of the propeller resemble a flower, but it references Singapore's role as a hub for air travel.

Airport authorities say that while there has been no fixed budget for art-related expenditure, the cost of the artworks is factored into the budget for terminal design.

Frequent flyer and procurement manager Alex Lim, who was on his way to Shanghai from Changi Airport's Terminal 3, was drawn to the artworks while the photo shoot for this story was under way.

The 50-year-old says: "I am always rushing and have not noticed any of the artworks before. I will pay more attention next time. It is nice to present more art in airports. It sets us apart. Otherwise, most airports tend to be the same."

Works in Terminal 3


By Han Meilin, steel, bronze & gold

Touch down in Terminal 3 and it is impossible to miss this colossal, 900kg sculpture by 80-year-old Chinese artist Han Meilin. Taking the universal theme of family, the artist uses three varieties of metal: steel for the father, bronze for the mother and gold for the child perched on the father's shoulder. They are surrounded by a flock of birds. Arrival halls mark the return journey or, often, the journey home, and this 7.5m-tall piece in the immigration hall reflects that. The artist was the chief designer of the 2008 Beijing Olympic mascots - the Fuwa (Good Luck) dolls.


By Kumari Nahappan, bronze

Sculptor Kumari Nahappan is well known for her large-scale public installations of dancing chilli peppers, red-hot chillies and bell peppers. Commanding attention at the airport amid the palms and ferns just before the immigration counters is this super-sized Saga Seed. Cast in bronze and varnished in red, it celebrates the 62-year-old's fascination with saga seeds, also known as love seeds. She has been collecting them for nearly 20 years and, at the 2013 Singapore Biennale, had used them to stunning effect in an installation titled Anahata. Her use of materials and subjects draw on what she calls "the spice of life" and stay rooted in South-east Asian forms, materials and aesthetics. The seeds evoke childhood memories and the Saga Seed here evokes the many feelings associated with home.


By Han Sai Por, marble

Framed by Terminal 3's large windows, with light filtering in on a clear day, you get a fascinating light-and-shadow play with this piece. Floral Inspirations was created by 1995 Cultural Medallion recipient Han Sai Por, whose work draws heavily on themes related to nature. This piece by the 72-year-old sculptor is no different. The details in the two marble sculptures have the texture of botanical organisms, evoking both the connections and references to Singapore as a garden city.



By Pors & Rao, mixed media

This sound-sensitive installation by Bengaluru-based Indo-Danish artist duo Pors & Rao uses mechanical animation. When the space becomes quiet, little mechanical beings slowly creep out from behind white boxes to explore the place and people around them. They appear gingerly and slowly gain confidence. But the minute there is a loud sound, they take cover by disappearing behind the boxes. The work invites participation and the playful and quirky responses to sounds get you thinking about the human psyche and behaviour. Artists Soren Pors, 42, and Aparna Rao, 38, have exhibited their art at various exhibitions, including the critically acclaimed 2014 Kochi-Muziris Biennale in India and the 2009 Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale in Japan.

Watch the video

Correction note: An earlier version of the story incorrectly named the artwork "Going Home" as "Coming Home". This has been corrected.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2016, with the headline 'Art on the fly'. Print Edition | Subscribe