View works on the fast track

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 3, 2013

The next time you use the travellator at the new Bugis MRT station, look carefully at the frosted glass next to you and you might catch a glimpse of Patrick Chia's Ephemeral. His coloured discs at the soon-to-open Downtown line station are visible only from certain angles.

They are part of the Land Transport Authority's Art In Transit programme, which was launched in 1997 to inject vibrancy into Singapore's train network. Ephemeral is one of five new pieces scattered along the Downtown line, the first leg of which opens for service on Dec 22. The other new works are at Promenade, Downtown, Telok Ayer and Chinatown stations.

While some of the installations draw inspiration from history and culture, others are focused on the station's architecture or creating an experience for commuters.

Chia, 44, says of his work: "It is about creating a concept that exploits the constraints and opportunities afforded by the architecture space, in which the experience of the work is completed by the passenger and his passage."

The designer adds that Ephemeral is "not meant to be obvious but to engage each commuter at his or her own moment... Some might get it immediately, some might realise it exists only after a few years and some will never know it is even there."

Another artist whose work can be seen on the Downtown line is Ana Prvacki, 37. The Los Angeles-based artist is the daughter of Milenko and Delia Prvacki, whose Art In Transit work Interchange resides in Dhoby Ghaut MRT station.

Ana Prvacki's contribution, Earthcake at Promenade station, is a colourful collection of local kuehs and rocky soil, presented in thin layers which look like a kueh lapis cake. She says: "I was interested in the process of the construction and I was intrigued by the core samples from the site. The visual connection to kueh was obvious and delightful."

While no one disputes that integrating art into MRT stations is a good idea, other artists Life! spoke to were divided on the quality of the works.

Take Cheo Chai-Hiang's Flying Colours at Chinatown station that depicts vibrantly coloured clothes hanging from poles to dry. Artist Jeremy Sharma, 35, whose Art In Transit work is at Holland Village station, says it is "original and whimsical with a lot of playful humour, yet formally very attractive".

However, for painter Yek Wong, 45, "the visual doesn't quite carry the concept" and he adds that it "could have been a little more visually engaging".

Yek, whose Art In Transit work is at one-north station, was critical of Prvacki's Earthcake. "I dislike works that are too trapped in philosophical mumbo jumbo. This feels like it."

On the other hand, furniture designer and artist Jason Ong, 43, whose Commuting Waves is at HarbourFront station, was "attracted to the layers and repetition as well as the conceptual link between the stratification of earth and that of a kueh".

But not all of the new works drew mixed reactions. Response to Charm Of Bay by Lim Shing Yee at Telok Ayer station was generally positive.

Mixed-media artist Erzan Adam, 37, whose work is at Farrer Road station, says it "feels like an upbeat, quirky abstract piece which is an interpretation of the history of the particular area".

Yek adds: "I love this. It has the quirky K- and J-pop culture that is so influential in Singapore now. The colours are fresh. This is the only piece I think I will stop and spend time looking at, maybe the Bugis piece as well."

While the works are bound to stir discussion, the chatter does not bother Chia. He says: "It doesn't matter if the artists are considered very good or very young, or whether the work is mature.

"We should not judge each work independently but view them collectively as a snapshot of the state of our art practice at this moment in time."

What do you think of the art in Singapore's train stations? Which are your favourites and which ones are not? E-mail


By: Artist Ana Prvacki, 37

Where: DT15 Promenade

Earthcake is made up of layers of food and soil, each piled on top of the other like a traditional kueh lapis cake. The work is vibrantly coloured and lines the wall along the train platform.

The accompanying description says: "Conceived as a collage of earth and local kueh, the artwork looks at the quintessential component of Singapore's multi-ethnic fabric: food, a powerful and unifying element essential to its identity and core."


By: Multi-disciplinary artist Jason Lim, 47

Where: DT17 Downtown

This is a mosaic wall with images of supple bamboo leaves. The write-up states: "The artwork draws inspiration from the biological structure of bamboo leaves. Looking through the microscope, the dense cell networks of leaves are a conceptual metaphor for the intricate networks of businesses around the station. The blending hues of green illustrate the vibrancy of the area above."


By: Artist Lim Shing Yee, 37

Where: DT18 Telok Ayer

The artwork comprises brightly coloured decals on walls around the station as well as three metal-clad pillars in the middle of it.

The write-up says: "Charm Of Bay celebrates the history of the area using abstract forms inspired by plantations and elements of water, each pointing or relating to the next as if passing on a tale about the past."


By: Designer Patrick Chia, 44

Where: DT14 Bugis

Ephemeral is made up of five discs, ranging in colour from red to blue and subtly hidden behind frosted glass. Chia's statement accompanying the artwork says: "The artwork aims to engage each commuter at his or her own moment. Some notice and understand immediately, others experience it differently at each encounter and some may take it in only at a subconscious level."


By: Artist, educator and curator Cheo Chai-Hiang, 67

Where: DT19 Chinatown

Flying Colours is presented in a lenticular format - the images are different depending on the angle they are viewed from. The statement accompanying the work says: "Flying Colours attempts to translate the mundane hanging of clothes... into one which is festive and celebratory." It adds that "commuters will experience the subtle changes in colours, giving the illusion that the clothes are flying in the wind as if in transit".

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 3, 2013

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