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'Licence 2 Draw': UuDam Tran Nguyen Brings Robotic Art to Vietnam

Software-based creations are increasingly populating the 21st century art scene, which sees smart phones, websites, digital moving images and software used to investigate and address the most varied themes, from social interactions to political subjects.

Just by looking at the works surfacing from pioneer arts organisations such as Rhizome, or by numerous emerging Asian art collectives like Dimension +, it is clear that technology is becoming a new tool for expression and is opening the doors to infinite and exciting possibilities.

The project

While in Vietnam, traditional art (painting, drawing, sculptures etc.) seems to be the predominant form, things are moving towards robotic art. Vietnamese multi-disciplinary artist UuDam Nguyen is currently displaying his new project Licence 2 Draw at the Koganecho Bazaar in Yokohama (Japan) as part of his residency. He discussed his new project with us.

 “License 2 Draw is an idea that I had for about 2 years when I was watching a series of clips that showcased the use of technology applied in distant wars and also when I saw the fearsome power of these weapons in the series Future Weapons. The fact that modern warfare can be fought from thousands of kilometres away with joystick and monitors like a game makes me uneasy. That was the moment when I thought of making a distance-controlled artwork that let anybody on the globe make art in the same way a drone war is fought today, from a great distance.”

Licence 2 Draw is an interactive artwork accessible 24/7; people from different parts of the world can instantaneously draw in Yokohama by using their smartphone, hence the exhibition’s name: World Tour in One Place – Yokohama.

Each time a License 2 Draw application user presses a button on his/her smartphone, it will send a signal to a server in Singapore and the server will direct the signal to the drawing car in Yokohama, making it move forward, backward, left or right and draw what the user wants. In order to see what they are drawing in real time, users can add the application via Skype (a step-by-step guide on how to use the application, can be found in the video below).

LICENSE 2 DRAW - Art by the Public - World Distance-Controlled Drawing via wifi and License2DRAW app - For Anyone from Anywhere from UuDam Nguyen on Vimeo.

Robotic art – foe or enemy?

Some critics claim that Robotic art will stop people from going to galleries and museums, and in this way, lose their physical interaction with art. In addition, it will isolate people from each other, which is something that we already see in our daily social interactions where we increasingly tend to spend more time on our phones than talking with people around us:

“Social media is a double-edged sword. For instance, without Facebook, it would have been so much harder to coordinate all the events and communications between all the artists in residency here in Yokohama. We are a group of more than 20 artists, curators, and coordinators that keep in touch and update [our projects] via Facebook group messages every seconds. It is very useful.

Our need for sharing is great and projects like License 2 Draw breaks down the division between sole proprietor and public. The public does not often take part in the art making in an international exhibition, really affecting the changes in the work, especially from their homes. It is a world collective creative effort. I love the idea that this is an Art by Public concept. I present a drawing car and a blank surface in Yokohama, the public will do the rest. The 3 sculpture's hands will move at random time by someone from somewhere without the control of the owner. Think of a drawing car moving at 3 a.m. in a silent exhibition space in Yokohama before opening time, and the one who moves the car that create that line is a kid who loves art from Gaza (Palestine) and then later a kid from Israel. They never met but they cross lines in that drawing space on the same drawing in Yokohama.”

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One of UuDam’s underlining motives for this project is linked to contemporary world political affairs, which see ongoing wars or diplomatic conflicts affecting different countries and their citizens.

“This project aims to bring artists and people from all over the world together in a creative spirit. We will come together to draw, to create. I am planning to invite artists from Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia to draw with artists from the US, Canada, Britain, Israel, etc. Also, I will invite artists from Japan to draw with artists from China, China with Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Korea, etc. I love this idea of an “illegal” border crossing. Artists from hot zones and countries that are enemies can cross those “boundaries” in a virtual space,” said UuDam.

Science and artistic medium

The Vietnamese artist is mostly known at home as the co-founder of the photographic magazine Xem and moreover, for his video installation Waltz the Machine Equestrians, which has been exhibited at the Singapore Biennale in 2013, at San Art in Saigon and until the 12th of October, at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. In his career, he has worked with different mediums (photography, sculpture and video installation) however, this is his first artwork strictly connected to technology:

“My works explore many different mediums. However, I am still interested in the use of very simple materials such as crayons, clay and rubber bands alongside wood, plexiglass and more sophisticated electronic components. Each work requires a particular medium to bring out the best results.

License 2 Draw needs software, hardware and server engineers as well as two graphic designers. I have to thank my team leader Nguyễn Anh Hào (software), Bùi Ngọc Khánh (hardware), Phạm Đức Huy (server), Bùi Thiện Quý and Phạm Ngọc Thắng (graphic designer) for this making this project possible. License 2 Draw borders on some more complex technologies and playful media that I find liberating and inspirational.”

The desire to combine art and science together started from the artist’s long interest in science:

“I’ve had a love for natural science and its wonders since childhood. I remember going to electronic night classes during my high school years in Saigon and reading all I could find about Thomas Edison’s inventions as well as science books. I got the idea for the retractable power system using pulleys from Fun Physics, a book I read a long time ago in high school. License 2 Draw project is a good culmination of all my interests in science.”

About Koganecho Bazaar

Fictive Communities Asia – Koganecho Bazaar 2014 features works from artists who were selected in consultation with Eight national and several international organizations (such as Zero Station in Vietnam), as well as artists who made their way through the open call. This year’s programme is curated by Makiko Hara, an independent writer and curator from Tokyo and Canada, and it is directed by Shingo Yamano, who curated Yokohama Triennale 2005.

This is a long-term curatorial collaboration between Ga 0 I Zero Station and Koganecho Bazaar. Last year, Zero Station presented artist Phan Quang, while this year’s artists are Liar Ben, Truong Cong Tung and UuDam Tran Nguyen.

The exhibition will run until the 3rd of November and in the meantime, anyone in Hanoi can take part in the drawing session, related to Licence 2 Draw – World Tour in One Place, organised by Heritage Space and Cuca on the 13th of September.

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