Ceramicsteel Weaves The Tapestry Of Singapore Through Metro Stations Island-wide
Take a subway ride through Singapore, and you’ll be surprised by what you see. Melted disco balls turned into raindrops, 3D sculptures, motif paintings stretching 10-meters long and maybe even a photograph of someone you know. In 1997, Singapore’s largest public art program launched in the most unlikely of places, metro stations.
Featuring the work of Singaporean artists, the board overseeing the transport system, Land Transport Authority (LTA), started the Art in Transit (AIT) program with the goal to give each metro station its own unique identity. A unique identity that echoes the surrounding neighborhood providing riders with a sense of place and wayfinding, as well as creating dialogue within the local community. Assistant Manager, Eileen Goh, describes the AIT program as an “excellent platform to reach out to the community and showcase the talents of Singaporeans to the world through a permanent exhibition of creativity and talent from the local population.” The successful program has been changing the face of metro stations island-wide for over 20 years and sees no sign of stopping.
CeramicSteel Blends Architecture with Art
The AIT program is an ideal blend of large-scale construction and handmade craft. Multiple components must come together to guarantee the technical, economic and safety needs of each station. When sourcing material for the artwork multiple requirements arise. It must be durable and easy to maintain as it’s exposed to millions of people per day. It also must be aesthetically pleasing, allowing the artwork to take center stage while it provides a flawless representation of the piece with fluidity and vivid color.
Polyvision CeramicSteel meets every requirement. Light-gauge vitreous, also known as porcelain, enamel panels provide a seamless image and show the intricacies of detailed art. CeramicSteel is fadeproof and the perfect solution for permanent architecture. The positive product performance over the years has created a strong relationship between Polyvision and LTA. Singapore-based Polyvision representative Ronald Lee notes that the relationship between LTA and Polyvision extends from the program’s inception to today. “It’s a long relationship as we were contracted for two of 16 stations on the North-East Line when the program was first introduced, the Potong Pasir and Boon Keng Stations.”
A quality product with excellent properties for heavy-traffic environments, CeramicSteel is used throughout multiple LTA metro lines, and not only where the art is displayed. Architectural walls and elements accompany the works of art, adding dimension throughout the station. From one of the first stations at Boon Keng to the one of the latest, Expo Station, large module panels add an element of grandeur to the stations and accent the commissioned art.
The entrance at the Tampines Central Station is enhanced with architectural walls made of large CeramicSteel panels to create an expensive and welcoming atmosphere.
The process — from concepts to installation — at three recent stations showcases how valuable the AIT program is for the communities it serves, and how CeramicSteel rose above typical challenges to make the visions a reality. As Lee describes, it’s not as easy as one might think. “Art is not an absolute science; it requires a certain depth and perception of the subject which can only be bridged with a qualified liaison between the artist and the main contractor.” Lee notes this bridge is delicately managed by Goh and LTA’s Vincent Lee and Tan Swee Lin, who altogether manage the artwork and the AIT program.
“And a New World” by printmaker and mixed media artist, Cristene Chang, brings together the many intersecting cultures and interests found in the Kallang, Lavender and Jalan Besar regions where the Bendemeer station resides. Performing deep ethnographic research, Chang walked through the surrounding neighborhoods, taking in her city with a new eye. Her personal on-site photographs of archival architecture, patterns, colors and motifs throughout the area are incorporated directly into the piece, giving the artwork authenticity and relevance for the local people.
Chang describes her piece as a “mixed-media artwork comprising the techniques of printmaking, painting, stitching, collage and overlaying fabrics.” With an intricate piece comes the need for intricate material. Lee explains this was the main reason why CeramicSteel was chosen for the project. “The intricacies of the art required precision, which is why light-gauge panels were selected.”
Once the Art Review Panel — a nine-member board appointed by LTA to provide guidance and ensure quality, artistic integrity and the representation of artists from a diversity of backgrounds — approved Chang’s second concept, she got to work. Providing multiple drawings to LTA, together they foresaw a few challenges. In the past, hues of magenta on other panels didn’t turn out as vivid as other colors, and screen-printing artwork lacked the detail they hoped for.
CeramicSteel surpassed expectations. Needing to show fine detail, the Polyvision team decided to digitally print the art rather than use the traditional screen-printing method. Chang’s drawing was 3D scanned in Germany, and then two small samples were digitally printed in Polyvision’s Belgium location for a color and detail test. Magenta was heavily represented in the piece with as much fidelity as any other color and very subtle effects — such as stitching and overlaying fabric — were conveyed far better than expected. More of these hand-done techniques were added to the art because the vitreous enamel so clearly highlighted Chang’s detail work. Two full-size panels were produced for another round of review before the remaining eight panels were delivered and fitted out in Singapore.
The end result shows “And a New World” with a depth and nuance that showcases Chang’s artistic vision and the neighborhoods it represents. CeramicSteel provided the ideal palette for Chang’s emotive depiction of the contrasting activities, social layers and past and present of the area, giving herself and every area resident a connection to home.
Tampines East and West Stations
Community. It was the main goal for Jing Quek, the artist commissioned by LTA to design the artwork for the Tampines East and West Stations. One glance at the massive image compiled of individual photographs of local citizens and nearby architecture, and you can clearly see he achieved his mission.
To develop his concept, Quek started with researching imagery of Tampines, an urban city in Singapore. Drawing inspiration from historical photography and dense group shots he landed on the idea to create large panoramas filled with location markers that residents would recognize and images of the residents themselves. To get local citizens to participate, he created flyers describing the photoshoot and its intention to ‘star’ local residents. Asking people to show up in their everyday clothing to capture the real Tampines, Quek photographed 250 people for each location.
Large panels in complementing colors add an element of grandeur as residents ride the escalator at Tampines West.
As Quek was capturing his subjects, the contractors for the project were deciding which material would display his work. The piece needed to have no visible joints between panels — so facial features were fluid — looking like one continuous photograph. It also needed to show crisp detail, so even the smallest photographs were recognizable. Not only did CeramicSteel provide a fluid image across multiple panels, but the Polyvision team digitally printed Quek’s work which avoided the fading that would come with a laser-ink printing process.
To start the typical process of installing artwork, a small selection of the art is enlarged to a 1:1 scale and test printed. Strike-offs (1,100 mm x 600 mm) are either approved or sent back to reprint with edits. Knowing that Quek’s piece was very detailed, the Polyvision team decided against the normal process, producing the strike-off on full-size panels (3,000 mm x 1,100 mm). This allowed Quek to better evaluate if the entire piece would come out as he envisioned. These panels were approved, and production began.
Polyvision’s expertise and capabilities, along with the high level of trust with the LTA and a smooth process with architects and contractors, fostered an end result the team was happy with. Thirty-eight panels, each 1150.84 mm x 3000 mm to fit the perfect proportions of the image, showcase an authentic Tampines that represents the city to visitors and locals alike.
Art in Transit Creates Culture
The AIT program benefits the communities of Singapore in a multitude of ways. Young-undiscovered artists have the opportunity to showcase their work to millions. The program preserves traditions, architecture and symbols from the past and shares them with a new generation. As Goh describes, the AIT program “showcases local heritage and culture creating an artistic legacy that will be enjoyed by millions of Singaporeans and visitors for generations.”
The engagement with citizens and dialogue within the communities has been so successful and wide-spread that LTA partnered with Art Outreach, a local non-profit with the mission to connect people who may not come in contact with art often, exposure to it across the city. Together they offer AIT Walking Tours where a guide shares the artworks’ narratives and explains how the pieces were produced. Over 10,000 people have taken the tour.
The AIT program is an example of Singapore’s talent and values — showcasing the city’s belief that art should be integrated with life and isn’t a luxury only for the elite. It blends art and architecture, reality and surrealism and the past with the future. Goh captures the significance of the AIT program, saying it, “fuses art in every part of our daily activities and serves to cultivate a more gracious society over time by making the concept of art available to everyone. As the stations are key transport nodes used by millions of people from all walks of life each and every day, the AIT program is an effective means of reaching out to a larger diverse community and instilling a greater sense of civic pride.”