InAVator: UuDam Tran Nguyen, Artist

Vietnamese artist UuDam Tran Nguyen talks with Hurrairah bin Sohail about his License 2 Draw installation, which uses consumer and AV technology to engage users across the world in the process of making art.

UuDam Tran Nguyen is a Vietnamese artist currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. His work explores the rapid development and social progress of Vietnam in both rural and urban spaces.

Growing up in the turbulent aftermath of the Vietnam war, Nguyen exhibited an interest in the arts from a young age, following in the footsteps of his father who was an artist, writer and poet. His early days were spent drawing on the back of his father’s typing papers. This interest prompted Nguyen to pursue art and he got his BA from UCLA and MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York, USA.

Currently, he pursues art across a wide range of mediums which encompass drawing, painting, base relief, sculpture, app art, robotics, video, travel performances and infl atable sculptures. More recently, Nguyen has been exploring the intersection of art and technology.

This year, the Singapore Art Museum Imaginarium exhibition hosted Nguyen’s License 2 Draw installation. The work is also connected to Nguyen’s studio in Ho Chi Minh City as well as the Yamamoto Gendai in Tokyo, Japan.

An interactive installation, License 2 Draw includes viewer participation via the L2D application which can be installed on smartphones and tablets. The app can be used to control the L2D robot which is armed with drawing utensils. Movement of the L2D robot results in original artwork being drawn by the audience.

Nguyen talks about how the installation works: “Each time you press a button on your phone, it will send a signal to a cloud server in Singapore. The signal is then then redirected to a L2D robot in the Singapore Art Museum (or Vietnam or Japan). The robot will move and draw as instructed. This approach gives License 2 Draw the ability to be in many locations around the world at the same time and it can be accessed by anyone from any place in the world with the L2D app.”

Regarding the License 2 Draw installation, Nguyen says: “I would like to show a new model of crowdsourcing collaboration that is possible through the means of the internet and online space while also transcending the differences among people, cultures and lifestyles.”

Nguyen discusses how the idea began: “License 2 Draw started with my uneasiness with the drone war that America was carrying out in several parts of the world. This is a new type of warfare which allows soldiers to command flying drones to kill enemies while the solider is safe at home, thousands of kilometres from the battle field. Upon knowing that, I thought that if one can do such a destructive thing so remotely, can we artists do something similar in a different way, a more creative way?”

He continues and narrates how his idea germinated: “Even though I had the idea around 2010, I didn’t begin to implement it until 2014. After talking to a young IT graduate student, Hào Nguyá»…n, in Saigon about my concept, he said that it can be made a reality. We shook hands and the journey began. Now, the team has grown to more than one person. We have upgraded the app and the L2D robot several times.”

Remote operation requires remote monitoring. Nguyen explains how this was achieved: “Bringing clear images of the L2D robots on the huge canvas from the Singapore Art Museum to the audience worldwide, 24/7 for four months, was a big goal. In order to do that, in this installation at Singapore Art Museum, I employed eight Bosch CCTV cameras. All of them aim at the L2D robot. Four Bosch cameras are mounted on top the Pixio cameraman robot and turn to track each move of the L2D robot. These Bosch super light sensitive cameras are robust enough to capture all activities of the L2D drawing robot on the canvas 24 hours a day, seven days a week for four months. All these images will be broadcasted to L2D app users from all over the world to see.”

Technology is a crucial component of the License 2 Draw installation and Nguyen says: “Only at this time in history, an artist like me can achieve a phenomenal result like this [the License 2 Draw installation] via a normal smartphone and the internet that most of us have access to. It is amazing that we now can touch our phones to move a 7kg L2D robot equipped with four colour pens, tens of thousands of kilometres away from us to create a drawing.”

According to Nguyen, the worlds of art and technology will continue to merge. He says: “I think that the AV world has already impacted the world of art and it will only become more prominent. The world is moving in the direction of moving images. Facebook Livestream is one example. Even Instagram now features video. I have been making videos since 1999, but now video is taking on an even more important role.”

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