Station to Station

The artwork Interchange at Dhoby Ghaut NEL station is a salute to Asiaʼs rich cultural legacy. Made up of colourful mosaic and ceramic works, it was created by husbandand- wife team Milenko and Delia Prvacki.

Andrew Mead, the man responsible for curating artworks that reflect Singapore’s cultural and historical heritage for many of the country’s subway stations, recollects his time here.

BY LOW SHI PING
PHOTOS DARREN SOH, KEN SEET

A

rchitect Andrew Mead, who specialises in the design of transit systems, has lived in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and now Hong Kong. But ask him where home is and he will reply “Katong”, a residential area in the east of Singapore.

It is not surprising, considering he spent 15 years here. From 1996 to 2006 and 2008 to 2013, he initiated and managed the Art in Transit programme – the largest public art project in Singapore – led by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), which is responsible for planning, operating, and maintaining Singapore’s land transport infrastructure and systems.

The Art in Transit programme saw Mead working with different curators, including art critic Constance Sheares, to adorn the train stations of the North East Line (NEL), Circle Line, Downtown Line and Thomson Line with works by artists who are either Singaporean or Permanent Residents, and bring art into the daily lives of Singaporeans.


DRAWING PEOPLE CLOSER

Covering more than 50 stations, the Art in Transit programme integrates art into architecture and features artworks that are functional and accessible. Aside from being an excellent platform for artists to reach out to the community, it showcases the artistic talent of Singapore to the world.

Above all, the programme offers future generations a collection of works that speak eloquently about Singapore’s history and culture.

“The programme shows that the arts can be part of everyday life, and that (the sense of community) can be enhanced by careful planning and commitment to creating quality artworks that relate directly to the people and history of Singapore,” he says.

Because of his work, Mead now counts several Singaporean artists as close friends. They include Milenko and Delia Prvacki, who created Interchange at the Dhoby Ghaut NEL station; as well as the late Chua Ek Kay, who was responsible for the artwork The Reflections at the Clarke Quay station.

Having been involved in the design and construction of close to 200 stations worldwide, he admits it is hard to pick a favourite. Press him though, and he will say Stadium is worth a special mention.

He says: “Entering the station from the train is like walking into a cathedral.”

Ask him what aspect of the programme he is proudest of and he brings up the partnership with Art Outreach, a not-for-profit art education charity that organises docent-led tours of selected stations and runs sessions on the artworks in schools.

He says: “It is great that we give back to Singapore; teaching the younger generation about their home, environment, history and culture, while at the same time giving visitors the opportunity to see beyond the bling of Orchard Road and the normal ‘tourist’ tours.”

Andrew Mead leading a tour organised by Art Outreach to introduce artworks at selected stations to the public.

The Stadium MRT station features a series of stunning photographs, by Roy Zhang, that is integrated into its architecture.

Curiously, the 51-year-old has never had any formal art education. “Knowing how to integrate art and architecture comes from experience,” he points out, referring also to his years in Toronto working on its transit art programme.

“It takes a team of curators, engineers, architects and, of course, artists. My job is to create the right conditions for the artists to showcase their talent.”

Mead remembers how the pool of artists was limited at the start, but gradually grew thanks to the Singapore Government’s support of art education.

“It also helped that we did not restrict the programme to the fine arts. We have had fashion designers, computer programmers and video artists create artworks over the years – this adds diversity and vibrancy to the collection.”


A CONTINUING LEGACY

Mead hopes that the momentum started by the programme does not slow down.

One way to ensure this would be to add art to the stations along the North-South and East-West Lines. He says: “(The fact) that LTA considers art an essential and integral part of any new station is a huge achievement. Over the years, we have created a fantastic artistic legacy that continues to expand.”

In 2013, Mead left Singapore and moved to Hong Kong to take on the position of Chief Architect of MTR Corporation.

He was part of the team that opened the West Island Line stations, featuring artworks by local and international artists.

Mead has also just commissioned six Hong Kong artists to create site-specific works for six stations in the Shatin to Central Link train line, and a mix of local and international artists to contribute art that will be displayed throughout the high-speed rail station.

Yet his heart is still very much in Singapore.

“I visit every eight to 10 weeks, and I miss both the food and my friends. I love exploring the different parts of all the cities I have lived in.

The Art in Transit programme is just one aspect that makes Singapore a great city in which to live and visit.”

 


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