Art Goes Underground

A 90-metre passage way, leading to Singapore's iconic retail mall ION Orchard, is a digital art canvas that aims to make a routine subway ride less ordinary.

Issue: Jul 2009

underwater world
Pedestrians passing through the Orchard Station come up close to a mysterious underwater world presented in the "Water" series.
The soft silhouette of a Great White lurks in the hazy blue waters, on the lookout for its prey. Seaweeds dance lazily, as fishes hurry by. A giant sea turtle peeks out from the seabed. This mysterious underwater world greets thousands of people when they leave one of Singapore's busiest subway stops, the Orchard Station.

This subway exit (known to its architects as the WaterDrop) leads directly to the soon-to-open ION Orchard's public event square called ION2. The mall's architects had designed this long stretch of LED-lit wall to be used as a dynamic digital canvas for art - so as to enhance the sense of arrival to the mall. The panel also doubles up as an advertisement panel. Laminated frosted glass walls give a soft, feathery mask to the graphics, which would otherwise be a tad too bright for comfort, especially to commuters who pass by on the escalators.

Graphic artist Tan Cher Suen, who is also ION Orchard's artistic director for new media, was commissioned to create a series of ambient art for this passage way.

Based on ION Orchard's architectural theme of growth and life, he created a series called "In Its Elements". This comprises the four seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, and the five zodiac elements of Water, Fire, Metal, Earth and Wood.

Tan revealed that there was an "initial learning curve" for him when it came to translating his digital art onto the LED wall. "You have to understand the characteristics of the display, a lot of the time, the graphics don't come out the way you want," he added. After some trial and error, which included testing out the graphics on-site, Tan was able to confidently unveil his designs.

The distinctive ION branches inspired the "Wood" series; leaves would sprout whenever the ION purple struck the branches.
"Wood" was launched in mid-2008, during the opening of the South Entrance leading to ION Orchard. The graphics are based on the ION branches - the distinctive tree-like columns that support the ION's huge canopy. When a trail of ION purple struck the branch, the contact ignited a flowering and sprouting of new leaves.

"A lot of people remember the ION tree because it was the first one that the graphic was animated. They were like 'Wow, the wall can do this, suddenly there's full colour'," recalled Tan.

"Spring" brings the joy of harvesting new hope to shoppers during the Lunar New Year festivities.
"Spring" was launched to celebrate the Lunar New Year in 2009. Sprout, growth, pollination, propagation and dance were the various episodes of "Spring" that expressed the joy of harvesting new hopes.

Mesmerizing sea life in the "Water" series
"Water" was launched at the opening of ION's Basement 2 concourse. Lush, rich and atmospheric, ''Water'' is evocative of deep sea oceans that carry mesmerizing sea life. According to Tan, water exists as a passive element, yet it is pulsating with life.

"Through the inter-play of space and anti-space, this piece conveys the sense of water's unique character - being invisible yet omni-present, being easily taken for granted yet undeniably an essential element of life," said Tan.

Tan shared that the next set of graphics that commuters are likely to see will be based on the "Earth" theme. Roots that swirl out in various shapes and sizes are likely to greet passers-by. This, he said will be "generative art", a kind of random patterns created by computers and not deliberately designed.

So the next time you pass by this uniquely lit passage way, take a few minutes to take in the scene - it may just surprise you.

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