The way we get by: An artist meditates on transportation

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Villamael often takes trains because of his fascination with them. Upon seeing these trailer trucks, he got to thinking about living on the road, with minimal possessions, like a "hermit or turtle," and whether he would ever get used to a life like that. Photo by RYAN VILLAMAEL

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Can you paper-cut your way through the world?

For Ryan Villamael, a young artist who has famously abstained from the more liberal modes of art expression and largely dedicated his work to cut paper, 2016 proved the world-conquering abilities of his practice.

Last year, Villamael was awarded the Fernando Zobel Prize for Visual Arts at the Ateneo Art Awards, where he became the sole recipient of all three residency grants accorded to the three Ateneo Art Award winners. His July 2014 exhibit, “Isles,” which saw the artist reflect on geopolitical issues and personal narratives through a series of three-dimensional paper cuttings of old maps displayed under bell jars, won him international residency grants in Australia, Singapore, and the U.K.

Because of that, Villamael spent the first six months of 2016 traveling the world, in residency under the Ateneo Art Awards program in Liverpool Hope University in Liverpool Hope, England, and La Trobe University Visual Arts Center in Bendigo, Australia; and for a textile-centric program in Auvergne, France.

The last half of the year will be similarly busy for the artist, with a residency with the Artesan Gallery in Singapore on his plate, as well as local and international exhibitions in the next few months. But before that, he looks back on his time in Australia, France, and the U.K., and shares his photo diary with CNN Philippines Life.

Upon reviewing the photos he took on his trips, Villamael realized that he had unconsciously homed in on the different modes of transportation — the comings and goings of a city — to help him understand each culture. The trams in Australia, the trains in France, the cabs in the United Kingdom — the way we get around says a lot about how a culture moves, progresses, and prospers, and on the flip side, how a culture stagnates, gets sluggish, and becomes trapped in its own trappings.

“The benefits of a working transportation system really struck me,” he says. “Things like that, we shouldn't be worrying about — riding a train from point A to point B, riding a bus and looking out of the window and seeing the country, riding a car from coast to coast — but in our country, we do. Living in Manila, I’m a commuter and I see it firsthand. It was eye-opening being in those cities. When a transportation system is working, it’s a service for everyone. Transportation as the great equalizer.”

ryan villamael A street scene from Kensington, London. Photo by RYAN VILLAMAEL

ryan villamael Gare de Lyon, a railway station in Paris, France. Photo by RYAN VILLAMAEL

ryan villamael Abandoned train tracks in Bendigo, Australia. Photo by RYAN VILLAMAEL

ryan villamael An empty road (left) and a bike path in Brisbane, Queensland. Photos by RYAN VILLAMAEL

ryan villamael A junk shop in Bendigo, Victoria. Photo by RYAN VILLAMAEL

ryan villamael A tram depot in Bendigo, Victoria. Photo by RYAN VILLAMAEL