June 12, 2009 / 9:18 AM / 8 years ago

The journey becomes art at Asian transport exhibit

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Transport is all about speed, convenience, predictability and the destination. Or is it?

A group of Southeast Asian artists would rather commuters slow down, focus on the journey, its impact on the environment and the urban landscape, and also take note of the emotions and the transience of life we often take for granted.

"We are all sharing one world," says Vietnamese photographer Tung Mai, one of 15 artists taking part in the "TransportASIAN" exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum.

"My main purpose is to ensure visitors become aware of the speed of their lifestyle, to slow down and to spend a little time to care for others, especially the less fortunate."

A play on words, the exhibition in part documents the history of transport in Asia through images, video and installations that also explore the process through the themes of time, space, action and fiction.

There is Tung Mai's photo wheel attached to a bicycle which visitors are asked to pedal backwards, not forwards, and the huge canvas-like works of Singaporean Samantha Tio who spent six months photographing lit-up vehicles on the night-time streets of four Asian cities, often up to six hours at a time.

"Transportation is a very relevant theme for contemporary Asia, where we have metropolises booming at unprecedented rates. Speed and progress are buzzwords for our leaders," Tio said.

"But it's when we slow ourselves down that we can actually appreciate and see. It's an amazing spiritual process."

Award-winning Singaporean Dominic Khoo chose to counter the anonymity and conformity of public transport by taking voyeuristic portraits of commuters lost in their own emotions.

There are also portraits of a dying form of transport in Asia, the rickshaw, as well as a video installation by Japanese-born Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba entitled "Breathing is Free" which highlights running as an efficient way to get places.

Efficiency and the environment define the works of Singapore-based Canadian artist Mark Kaufmann, who creates whimsical "time" and "flying" machines, reminiscent of the contraptions of previous centuries, out of scrap.

"In the future, with resources being depleted, we'll probably go back to using what we've got," he said. "Recycling, like time and patience, is an art form."

The finite nature of life is the main theme of the works of Spanish artist Xavi Comas, whose print and video project "Pasajero/Passenger," of Asian commuters and trains, is one of the exhibit's highlights.

"We are all travelers of life, a life which fleeting nature causes us to feel sorrow," he writes in the catalog. "However there is a depth and beauty to be found in this impermanence, when at least we recognize it."

TransportASIAN is on display at the Singapore Art Museum until August 11, 2009.

Writing by Miral Fahmy, editing by Sugita Katyal

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