Fun and Fascinating Art for City Commuters


Commuting in a big city can be a dreary task — one usually occupied by general malaise. Artists around the world have channeled the experience of the daily hustle in fascinating ways — or at least ways that shed light on some of the beautiful moments found amongst strangers on a train. After spotting a unique video installation inspired by Seoul train travelers on Co.Design (featured after the jump), we decided to highlight other works that pay homage to he human experience (and sometimes general weird) of public transportation, also citing those artworks that only a city commuter could appreciate.

Subway Stories, from Alon Chitayat and Jeff Ong, is an interactive storytelling installation that explores the inner lives of commuters traveling through New York City. The illustrations were sketched during daily subway rides, and the meandering thoughts of the commuters were imagined by various authors.

Artist Adam Magyar captured commuters at the Sindorim Station in Seoul at a haunting pace. The high-speed video that Magyar slowed to a surreal crawl (56 times slower) was shot during rush hour as people descended the stairs to transfer train lines.

Janet Zweig and Edward del Rosario photographed more than 2,000 New Yorkers for their 1,200-foot installation, Carrying On. The Prince Street subway station became the background for 194 silhouetted New York residents and the many things they carry as they walk along the streets. Who knew tiny, shadowy people dragging grocery carts and lugging their belongings could be so compelling?

Photo credit: Robbie Rosenfeld

Photo credit: Todd Glickman

Photo credit: Robbie Rosenfeld

Renowned theater designer and director Robert Wilson turned back the clock at the Stillwell Avenue station in New York City with his My Coney Island Baby. The artist silk-screened archival images from historic Coney Island along the 370-foot glass-brick wall.

For long-distance commuters or subway riders dreaming of faraway places, Doug Aitken’s Station to Station could be your happy place.

Station to Station connected leading figures and underground creators from the worlds of art, music, food, literature, and film for a series of cultural interventions and site-specific happenings. The train, designed as a moving, kinetic light sculpture, broadcasted unique content and experiences to a global audience.

The month-long event kicked off in September 2013 and made nine stops between New York City and San Francisco.

If you spend any amount of time in New York City, you’re bound to see something unusual. We’re certain a few tourists were rendered totally confused by artist Bettina Behjat Banayan, who performs various acts on crowded subway cars that toy with ideas of intimate and public space. In the above 2012 performance, Banayan openly read porn on the subway — and the hilarious/disgusted/curious look from the man next to her in the video is perfection. This year, Banayan frosted a cake and served it to fellow train travelers.

Why commute on foot or by train when you can travel through the city via a nearly 300-foot water slide? This is the exact thought artist Luke Jerram had, which inspired him to create an urban slide through the city of Bristol in the UK. “Enabling people to navigate the streets of their city in a new way, the slide is a simple architectural intervention and a playful response to the urban landscape,” the project website tells us.

Waiting for the bus to arrive is about as exciting as watching water boil. Artist Bruno Taylor reimagined the humdrum urban space by installing a swing and taking video and photos of playful commuters and passersby.

Why yes, lugging heavy bags up eternal flights of subway stairs would be more fun if you transformed the steps into a giant piano.

This one goes out to all the people who insist on driving for their daily commute despite living in a big city and having access to public transportation. A traffic signal art installation, consisting of 20 sets of lights on a single pole, in Chongqing China recently confused travelers. “The traffic signal/art installation is part of Chongqing’s Yangren Jie, a tourist area featuring wacky and tacky imitation foreign buildings, as well as the world’s largest bathroom.”